Asia Publishers puts out a massive collection of retreads :-(

KTLIT LogoThe Korea Herald notes that Asia Publishers has just put out a 15-volume bilingual Korean literature series, titled Bi-lingual Edition Modern Korean Literature.

But it seems to feature all the usual suspects and previously translated works.

Really? This is getting past ridiculous. I suppose the defense will be that this volume is for “Korean Studies” courses, but how much impact does that have? This just seems like an epic waste of translation resources in a year in which exactly two novels have been translated from Korean to English (Kim Young-ha’s Black Flower and Cho Chongnae’s, How in Heaven’s Name?)

And look at the works mentioned (so far):

  • Oh Jung-hee’s Chinatown (already translated in a novella by Jimoondang)
  • Choe Yun’s The Last of Hanako (Multiply translated including a novella by Jimoondang)
  • Jo Jung-rae’s The Land of the Vanished
  • Yi Cheong-jun’s The Wounded (already translated in a novella by Jimoondang)
  • Park Wan-suh’s Mother’s Stake 1 (Already published in the collection Sketch of the Fading Sun)
  • Yang Kwi-ja’s The Poet of Wonmi-dong (A good story, but already published as part of the entire novel it is a piece of, A Distant and Beautiful Place)
  • Kim Seung-ok’s Record of a Journey to Mujin (Already published in the, admittedly difficult to find, Home-Coming And Other Korean Short Stories, but also available FREE online at Korea Journal!)
  • Gong Ji-young’s Human Decency (already translated in a novella by Jimoondang)
  • Shin Kyung-sook’s The Place where the Harmonium Was (May have already been translated in the KLTI Anthology of Modern Korean Literature from Columbia University Press)
  • Eun Hee-kyung’s Poor Man’s Wife

So, by my count, exactly two stories out of ten are new translations, and there is no telling if I have simply overlooked where those two might be found.

As I mentioned at the outset, this is intended to be for Korean Studies students:

The series will be sold in both Korea and the U.S., and will be used as class material for Korean studies courses at Harvard University, Columbia University and University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, Asia Publishers said.

But  80% of this stuff already exists, some of it available free, or in the $5 Jimoondang Series. And no one (my prediction, actually, is 5 people) outside of Korean Studies will ever purchase this collection. So much work by so many great translators and then it is jammed into a trunk and tossed overboard.

I’m just not sure what is accomplished by projects like this?

5 thoughts on “Asia Publishers puts out a massive collection of retreads :-(

  1. Is this retranslation or republication?

    I actually think whether it’s one or the other, or entirely new translations of previously untranslated works they are all worth it in some way. Yes, more should be translated from Korean, and new Korean writers should be introduced to the world (I understand and share that frustration) but from the researcher’s point of view even these retranslated and/or republished works have some merit.

    I will admit to being biased though, as I’m precisely looking into retranslation in my PhD…

  2. Alua,

    Most of these works have ALREADY been translated multiple times. And, sure, here at Dongguk we derive a great deal of pleasure in comparing retranslations (When the Buckwheat Blooms has been translated at least 10 times, probably 20 or more). But translation is an intensive business, for which there is a limited amount of resources and it is silly, to me, to keep pawing over the same ground, particularly for works which have previously demonstrated no popularity in English.

    Shin Kyung-sook, Kim Young-ha, and Yi Munyol have all proven that works can be popular in translation, and to my mind, attempting to reproduce that kind of success is much more important than creating dusty academic tomes which only you and I^^ will read). Particularly when academics already have access to multiple versions of most of these works.

    It’s re-inventing a square wheel, or some other tortured metaphor.^^

  3. I understand your criticism, but I do appreciate this series (as another Korean Studies student!) because it seems difficult to find bilingual resources. It will be of great help for improving my literary reading skills!

  4. ROK needs to support financially and in otherwise the translation of genre literature.

    Works like these that just won translation awards:

    should be funded by the Language Translation Institute, rather than books that will garner few non-specialist readers.

    How about translations of 10 different mysteries, followed by 10 translations of science fiction, followed by 10 of romance/erotica, followed by 10 of horror?

    And, why is Korea so obsessed with ‘highbrow’ literature that is unlikely to ever garner any readers?

    Has the new head of the LTI taken any steps noticeable by you?

    a single book with large numbers of readers like “50 Shades of Grey” would boost readership of Korean literature FAR more than these books destined to be unread.

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