The other day I caught the 401 bus, just to see where it ran. After a bit, it went by the COEX in Gangnam, which contains a reasonably sized Bandi & Luni. So I hopped off. After a cup of coffee in a Caffe Bene, I went down to Bandi & Luni look for some exciting new translation I hadn’t previously seen.
I went to the “translated Asian literature” section, which was one panel of a bookcase.
I was utterly dismayed by incredibly small number of books in translation. There were three big books that I had never heard of, The Dwarf by Cho Se-hui, two books by Kim Young-ha, a soft and hard cover version of Shin Kyung-sook’s Please Look After Mom. And that was it. The total.
In fact, there were more books by Korean-Americans than by Koreans (don’t get me started on the risible notion that Korea seems to have that Korean-Americans are somehow actually Koreans and should count in with native Koreans when book numbers are totalled), with Chang-Rae Lee having all his books represented.
Far worse, Japanese and Chinese literature made up well over three-fifths of the total (please note, in the picture below, that the Japanese and Chinese books are so numerous that they must be stored library fashion, while the Korean works are placed with the front covers facing out).
It was eminently clear to me that Bandi & Luni has no concern at all for the success of translations of Korean literature. There was no Yi Mun-yol, no Park Wan-suh, and no Ch’oe Yun. This is completely remarkable in a horrible way, and demonstrates that the pure profit motive has completely outweighed what I might call “patriotic” or “branding” approaches to what is stocked in this minute area of the store. This seems foolish at a time at which the number of foreigners is steadily increasing in Korea, and has reached 3%.
In the photo below, the Korean works are outlined in red, works by US authors are outlined in green, and works from other Asian countries are outlined in yellow. It gives a graphic idea of what I am talking about.