Sun, 07 May 2017 02:48:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Two hosts and a occasional guests, discussing books, authors, themes, and the history of Korean literature, with a particular focus on that which has been translated. () Korean Literature Translated into English 45800364 Spokane Shadle Library Presentation on Korean Literature Sun, 07 May 2017 02:47:42 +0000 Thanks to all who came out…

The PPT describing the history of Korean literature is attached…


Review of Cho Chongnae’s “The Human Jungle” in Seoul Magazine Sat, 14 Jan 2017 21:09:43 +0000 The Human Jungle coverFor those of you who don’t know, most of my writing has migrated to the Los Angeles Review of Books Korea Blog and Seoul Magazine.

Recently Seoul Magazine published my review of Cho Chongnae’s (Jo Jung-rae) “The Human Jungle” in the mighty Seoul Magazine:

For some reason they chose to use a graphic of the Korean-language cover, but rest assured I am reviewing the English translation (by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton).


Korean Modern Literature Review: “Kwon Sun-chan and Nice People” by Lee Ki-ho Sun, 03 Jul 2016 17:35:05 +0000
Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 10.33.39 AM
Kwon Sun-chan and Nice People
is by Lee Ki-ho who has also had At Least We Can Apologize and So Far, and Yet So Near translated into English. It is a very short story of two men and a problem. The narrator is a professor living away from Seoul and his family. He lives in a run-down apartment that is out of the way even for the countryside. As the story opens he is suffering from a case of writer’s block caused by a combination of lethargy and rage, or a case of lethargy and rage caused by writer’s block. To get to sleep he frequents a nearby pub, where he drinks maekju (Beer with soju mixed in). He is also prone to taking his rage out on those about him, for reasons he does not fully understand. This pattern has gone on, more or less, for eight years.

This rut-like life is interrupted one day when a strange and vague “off” looking man appears at the pub and then shortly outside of the apartment. The man is Kwon Sun-chan of the book’s title, and he is there to attempt to get back 7,000,000 won, which has been overpaid to a loan shark. The loan shark, however, does not live in room 502 of the apartment, as Kwon believes. Kwon’s arrival breaks up everybody’s rut – over time his small encampment and protest sign come to dominate everyone’s consciousness. This includes the woman in 502, who goes into self-imposed exile within her own apartment.

It is here the “Nice People” of the title kick in as they communally attempt to create a solution to the situation. One of the central questions asked by this short novella, though never asked explicitly is, “why are these people being nice?” As time goes by it become increasingly clear what solution Kwon wants and that it is not one that the apartment residents can provide. This only increases the sense of impotence that the apartment residents feel; an impotence that increasingly turns to anger.

And this is Lee’s point. The ending is a kind of reveal which tears off any bandaids that the previous proceedings might have had, and it is in this that Lee draws his final conclusions on how society warps our reactions to each other. In that way it is entirely of a piece with his At Least We Can Apologize, which also demonstrates how our power structure bends us to its own uses or, just bends us. The translation by Stella Kim is solid and the volume contains the original Korean text, a “Writer’s Note”, “Commentary”, and “Critical Acclaim” sections. Lee’s comments suggest that he might have shared the writer’s block that the narrator endures, and for similar reasons. The “Critical Acclaim” is an amusingly brief two paragraphs, one each by two critics, that manages to somehow fit in the phrase “sweating like a pig”^^, which seems to be a rather liberal translation of something like “spilling sweat.”^^

Another story of alienation by Lee, by which I mean a solid read in modern/post-modern Korean fiction.

]]> 1 12463
City Literature: LARB Blog Sun, 19 Jun 2016 17:05:46 +0000 It’s my bi-weekly piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books Korea Blog. This week the article is BRIGHT LIES,

Big City, Big Angst

Big City, Big Angst!

BIG CITY: KOREAN AUTHORS AND SEOUL. Below you will find additional information on the books/stories I mentioned on the LARB Blog

.Here’s an excerpt and below that the information on all the works mentioned in the piece.


The Korean relationship with big cities, particularly Seoul, mixes love with a strong undercurrent of hate. The love of Seoul is often clear: when I first got a job in Korea, which was in Daejeon, I called my best friend, who is Korean. Happy to hear that I got a job, he told the news to his wife, also Korean. “Where is the job?” he then asked. Woosong University in Daejeon, I replied, which he also dutifully relayed to his wife. In the background I could hear a small commotion, which was shortly interrupted by my best friend’s wife grabbing the phone from his hands and loudly yelling into it, “Why didn’t you get a job in Seoul? You won’t understand Korea unless you live in Seoul!”
To read more you must click here^^


Works discussed on LARB blog (with links to reviews on KTLit on the title, links to Amazon at the bottom of each entry).

The Soil, Yi Kwang-Su
Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press (November 16, 2013)
ISBN-13: 978-1564789112
Available on Amazon

A Day in the Life of Kubo the Novelist, Park Taewon
In On the Eve of the Uprising and Other Stories from Colonial Korea
Paperback: 284 pages
Publisher: Cornell East Asia Series; Hardcover edition (May 15, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1933947495
Available on Amazon

Seoul: 1964, Winter, Sung-ok Kim
In Modern Korean Fiction An Anthology
Paperback: 408 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press (August 3, 2005)
ISBN-13: 978-0231135139
Available on Amazon
Online as a PDF from the Korea Journal
OR (if you are rich) on Amazon (Don’t do it!^^)
Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 12.08.33 PM

The Dwarf
, Cho Se-hui
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press (September 29, 2006)
ISBN-13: 978-0824831011
Available on Amazon (Kindle also)

A Distant and Beautiful PlaceYang Kwi-ja
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press (December 1, 2002)
ISBN-13: 978-0824826390
Available on Amazon

Please Look After Mom, Shin-Kyoung Sook
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 3, 2012)
ISBN-13: 978-0307739513
Available on Amazon (Kindle also)

Kong’s Garden (Bilingual), Hwang Jung-Eun
Paperback: 116 pages
Publisher: Asia Publishers (2015)
ISBN-13: 979-1156621164
Available on Amazon

Homecoming (Bilingual), Cheon Myeong-kwan
Paperback: 116 pages
Publisher: Asia Publishers (2015)
ISBN-13: 979-1156621188







Fixed the Book! Thu, 16 Jun 2016 00:03:11 +0000 Not exactly earth-shaking. But when I ordered Modern Short Stories from Korea from “Pursuit of Happiness” Books in “Good” shape I did not expect a partially torn off cover and disconnected spine.





But as the only other copy cost $125.00 on Amazon(!) I decided to go online and figure out how to fix it. Which proved simple. I just had to buy some acid-free glue that adheres to ISO standard 18916. Which was at the local hobby store. So I got my tools together:



(Only used the fork to poke a hole in the top of the glue bottle^^)

Pour the glue down the spine and into the crack, then apply pressure in the form of flagstones:





And, voila.. still some gap in the inner side of the book cover, but much better and the spine is 100% reattached.




Early Korean Modern Literature: Collected Short Stories from Korea Sat, 04 Jun 2016 00:00:53 +0000 Collected Short Stories from KoreaOh my, … in my last review of Modern Short Stories From Korea the first book of translated Korean modern literature in English I noted that it was naturalistic, non-didactic, and even occasionally funny. So next I picked up Collected Short Stories from Korea (Technically “Volume 1” but so far as I know the only volume ever published), which is the second work of Korean modern literature translated and….. oh my… the editor of the books says…

Some Americans who read Korean short stories say that the reading of them create (sic) gloom and pain, for practically all the stories deal with hard and tragic lives. The editor acknowledges that they speak the truth. But to the Korean writers and readers, the gay or happy life seems unreal and unnatural, because for generations the Korean people have lived in poverty and have been mercilessly oppressed. Readers would feel offended if they found their reading devoid of the pain of the mind as well as of the body.

Another common criticism by Westerners is that Korean stories are full of redundant passages. This also the editor acknowledges. Partly it is a heritage of the elder writers, and partly that of the peculiar nation of the Korean language.”

So, there’s that…..^^

And while Collected Short Stories from Korea is published only three years after the first collection of Korean fiction published in English, it already begins to reveal some of the problems that would develop in the Korean translation process. With only one book already published, Collected Short Stories duplicates one story and has two that would soon be translated again. In addition, rural reveries that lead nowhere pop up, while stories others fail to conclude and/or make little sense in translation.

In any case, here are the stories:

Annals of a Ranch by Ahn Soo-Gil is an utterly pointless story. It has random animals, very little plot, and an ending that sputters out leaving the reader nowhere. It is a bizarre slice of pig-farmer life including ear amputation, sleeping with pigs (non-sexual), and random references to a cow-shaped mountain. This story set the bar for the oncoming translations of Korean shaggy-dog stories

Chom-Nye by Actually a kind of classic that has also been translated in Cry of the Harp. Chom-nye is a more overtly political story, comparing the brief and unfortunate life of its title character to the much more be-starred life of the daughter of the local ex-landlord. It contains some scathing passages which portray the social schisms between rich and poor – while landlords and yangban may have been officially replaced, nothing much has changed, in fact, social superiors have even been elevated to the statuses of Gods whose mere presence can turn villagers to something like stone. The plot turns on a detail as small as a chicken, and pretty much everyone comes off poorly.

Blood Phlegm is by Choi Tae-Ung and I suppose the title is a bit of a giveaway.^^ And yet it isn’t completely what you might guess. It features illness, hospitals, blood, all of that, yet manages to be a delicate love story in that Korean “eventually lost love” genre (Hey, “love means never having to say you’re sorry” as one ultra-white character said to another in “Love Story”!)

My Mother and the Roomer is by Chu Yo-Sup and drove me crazy because I KNEW it is in some other collection, but I couldn’t remember which one. More research reveals it was in 1998’s A Ready-Made Life: Early Masters of Modern Korean Fiction (reviewed here on KTLIT). The following passage is from that first review. Mama and the Boarder, by Chu Yo-Seop, features one of those preternaturally precocious narrators that can be annoying as nails on a chalkboard. Ok-hui is a six-year-old living with her widowed mother and uncle. And she can be cloying, moving from precocity to stupidity with amazing alacrity – at one point being taught how to play the organ at school and remembering “seeing  something that looked just like our kindergarten organ sitting at the far end of our room.” The story is also a bit of a drag, featuring a love affair that for social reasons must be broken up, and unless a reader is quite interested in that sort of thing, this is a story that he/she might skip.

The Cow by Chun Young-Taik is the same story as was published in Modern Short Stories From Korea as Cattle and it boggles the mind that a mere three years later the same group of folks (both P.E.N affiliated editors) would include it again, as it has no interest except as a small parable about the cost of losing social stability. Outlining the arc of a family, its cows, and cows in the village, Chun uses cows as a symbol of stability, community, and planning.

Home-Coming by Chun Pi-Sook is a brief but charming story of a man coming back to his village after the fall of Japanese colonialism. The story has some cliché elements to it, but is also told in a lovely fashion It also has a nice twist, and ends on an unusually optimistic tone that might have been intentionally ironic depending on when the story was written (since the Korean War was soon to put paid to the dream with which this story ends)

A Halo Around the Moon by Hahn Moo-Sook is (understandably) also printed in a collection of her stories title In the Depths (1965). Hahn is a revered and critically lauded author who wrote for five decades. A Halo Around The Moon features a narrator who is an elderly woman, widowed early in life, who has cocooned herself in a steely-withdrawal from all things sensual. When one of her tenants goes into childbirth, the widow finds herself face to face with a lifetime spent insulated from physical connection and must decide whether to follow control or in some way give in to life.

Coming Home by Kim Shung-Han is the dual narrative of a husband who goes to war and a wife who he leaves behind. Unusually, it also contains a very fully fleshed out story of the day-to-day battles of a soldier in the field. Philosopher Kim volunteers for the army over the strenuous objections and is wounded in battle. As he convalesces in the hospital he becomes close friends with a far less educated soldier. At the same time his wife is fending off the advances of a lecherous boss. As Coming Home concludes she is on her way to visit her husband at the hospital. And though that last sentence may make seem like another shaggy-dog story, in fact, it manages to have an ending that would likely satisfy a Korean or English-language reader.

Greedy Youth is by Kim Tong-ni a well-loved Korean author who has been multiply translated into English. It is a short and well-observed story of two boys, two ducks, and hunger. Kim is always strong at description and this story is no exception.

Mother’s Breast by Pak Ke-Ju is a short and bizarre story of two Koreans impressed into the Japanese army. Not much more can be said without giving it away, except it also ends in a spasm of patriotism.^^ Definitely one of those stories that would have appealed to Koreans of the era much more than it could have to readers in translation.

Dilemma by Pak Young-Joon is translated so archly that at points it is difficult to work through. This is exacerbated by the fact that the story is full of artificially constructed scenes between the two main male characters (a magical-manic-pixie girl also exists to keep the plot stoked) and also features dialogue in the form of political lectures.

The Lost Ones by Whang Sun-Won is a multi-generational weeper with traditional elements. Let’s just say that it is not giving much away to say that when, in Korean fiction, a young man travels far to visit his love or mother, she will certainly be dead on that young man’s arrival. It features the love of a star-crossed couple and their eventual sad endings. A bit predictable if you know Korean fiction, but not badly done for the genre. At the end there is a brief conclusion in which Whang concludes the story by referencing a very traditional bit of Korean folk-tale telling – it’s worth looking for.

Green Frog by Yi Chu-Hyon is a smaller melodrama and a thoroughly enjoyable one. A couple is forced to endure torrential rain while wondering if the dam they have built will endure the downpour or fail and destroy their property. But Yi makes this anything but a “bottle-episode” as Yi travels back and forth to his property, meets with his neighbors, and the detached narrator fills in important history and sketches out the caring but difficult relationship between the husband and wife. One of my favorites in this collection and that’s high praise as I usually don’t like this kind of translated fiction.

The Weather Chart by Yu Chu-Hyon begins with the description of an airfield and some charmingly offhand xenophobia and “slut-shaming.” It continues on in a fit of playing to the home team as an entire group of passengers on a plane is threatened with death. Which, of course, reveals their real character, completely to the advantage of traditional and noble Koreans. The Weather Chart is almost ludicrously anti-foreigner, which in fact makes it a very interesting read as it gives a sense of how Koreans thought during the Korean War (and post) era.

Not a bad collection, but as only the second collection of Korean modern fiction translated into English it is also a sneak-peek into the problems that would soon overwhelm translation into English. At the moment, there is only one copy available on Amazon, but it is fairly reasonably priced at $25.00.

Translation Review: “Three Voices at Midnight” early Korean modern Fiction. Thu, 19 May 2016 22:18:00 +0000 Three Voices At Midnight Cover


Three Voices at Midnight by Shing Sang-ung (Translated by Ahn Juhg-hyo) is an interesting amalgamation of internal stories. It is the story of a three-way love affair (not at all physical) between three men. It is also that relatively rare thing in Korean fiction as story about the Civil War as an actual battle. It is also a social story of a marriage in the post-war era and finally it is a peripheral look at the Korean involvement in the Vietnam War.

The book tells the story of three best friends So Chunhak, Yun Kyong and Pak Minuk, who enroll in the Korean army during the Korean War as university-enlistees. This status is preferred, among other things it allows a shorter service, but it also brings with it suspicion and scorn from the regular grunts. The story takes up as they are being trucked, nearly frozen to death, to their outpost on the front. Here the story becomes increasingly absurd, but in a good way. The point of this section is aptly summed up when one character notes that, “The fool who fails to become a fool in the army is the real fool”. And this plays out in a kind of reverse Catch-22 way as amidst stupidity (Yun Kyong is transferred away because his family is from the North) and disaster (which I won’t spoil, though one of the disasters is rather unlikely and they other one a clever surprise) the soldiers desperately do not want to get any kind of furlough. This first section is rather unusual for Korean fiction, which in translation has pretty much avoided general war stories, much preferring to deal with the results of war, or of personal relationships within the war, oftentimes featuring citizens or soldiers who are out of the war for various reasons; either lost, hiding, wounded, or running. Pak Minuk, the main point of view in the story, eventually ends up alone at the front, and when he is rotated out, he returns to his hometown.

Here the story splits into the domestic story of Pak trying to get into college to avoid being sent back into the army, his family story, his sporadic contacts with his old friend Yun Kyong, and an eventual romantic plot line. When Yun decides not to re-enter school and instead re-enlist in the army as an officer, a new plotline emerges in which Yun ends up in Vietnam. This section of the book is obviously not as tight as the first section and it becomes slightly less interesting because of that. While the wartime tale is tightly focused on issues of survival and insanity, the “peace”-time (War continues, it is just that Pak Minuk is out of it) tales are a bit dilatory and Shin falls into the “woe is me” (han, if you must know^^) narrative tendency that was common among Korean writers during colonialism, Korean War, and separation. Perhaps an inclination of this can be found in the fact the book begins in the Seoul National Cemetery and ends in tears. It is not that this woebegone nature isn’t earned, just that it is not always enjoyable to read and is somewhat predictable.

Some of the set pieces in Three Voices at Midnight are exceptionally clever. There is a scene in which Pak Minuk returns to his barracks after meeting his best friends girlfriend which is very amusing and the setup that gets Pak enough money to get back into university is straight out of a farce.

If I had stars to award I’d give this a 3.75 out of 5, with a very near to perfect score for the wartime passages.

Now the bad news. Apparently I purchased the last copy of this in the free world™. It is no longer available on Amazon. This book, and some of the Korean books in translation that vary absurdly in price, is the very reason that software like CamelCamelCamel which will watch Amazon for you and alert you to price changes. So, if you want to read one of the only semi-battle oriented Korean translations and a lot more? Set your Camels to watching and buy Three Voices at Midnight when it comes back on the market at a decent price (I think I paid less than $20.00 for my copy).

Korea: A country of one’s own? Thoughts on Han Kang’s Booker victory. Tue, 17 May 2016 16:07:33 +0000 Deborah Smith and Han Kang

Deborah Smith & Han Kang
(Courtesy: Reuters)

Last week in a “stop the presses” moment for Korean literature, Han Kang won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for her harrowing and brilliant The Vegetarian. Mention should also be made of her excellent translator Deborah Smith who wrote brilliantly literary prose.

Han Kang’s achievement immediately became the biggest ‘win’ in Korean translated literature, surpassing the achievement of Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please Look After Mom, which won the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012. Within Korea the same dynamic holds true with four of the last six winners (2010-15) of the prestigious Hyundai Munhak Award for Literature being awarded to female writers and four of the last six Yi Sang Awards (2010-15). These victories are the tangible residue of a surprising change in Korean literature, that female authors are now preponderant in Korean literature and doubly preponderant in translation successes. This is an unlikely outcome from a country that as little as 50 years ago still referred to female writers as a different category than male ones, “yoryu chakka” (Woman authors) in comparison to men who were simply “chakkanim” (authors). In an article that is no longer online Bruce Fulton comprehensively outlines this taxonomy:

There are chakka, “writers,” and sosolga, “novelists,” and there are yoryu chakka, “female writers,” and yoryu sosolga, “female novelists”—but no namnyu chakka, “male writers,” or namnyu sosolga, “male novelists.”

And yet now, female writers dominate the field. Why did this remarkable change come about? I might venture a couple of guess about “how” the change occurred by trotting out some obvious suspects. first of course King Sejong created Hangul in 1443, which for the first time gave the dispossessed, including women, an alphabet in which to write. Prior to that all literature was in Chinese, which required an education that could only be forthcoming to men, and specifically men who were trying to (or had) passed the test that made them yangban. After the fall of the Joseon Dynasty some lip-service was paid to women in the form of “free love” (actually, just the right to choose your marital partner) and female education, but these were far from universal and the few women who were brave enough to write during the colonial period quickly passed into shame or oblivion. After the war and civil war the “proper” topic of literature was considered to be the division of the country, and as this included war and politics, at that time solely male purviews, women were thematically excluded from being writers. As Korea industrialized, however, this began to ever so slightly change, as women were conceived of as having some rights, and increasingly became economic players.  Authors such as Park Wan-suh and Yang Kwija pivoted from topics of national separation to topics of societal and internal separation. Slowly the doors opened and by 2016 it is fair to say that female writers (that phrase!) outnumber male writers and dominate literary awards both domestically and internationally.

So.. as to “why’s” about four possibilities immediately occur:

1) Hangul makes writing possible for women
2) Modernization brings at least the *idea* of equality to the table
3) Industrialization creates a new class of “economic woman” which theoretically has access to the avenues of expression that men have
4) Internationalization brings new models from overseas in which women are perceived to have more access to all forms of expression.

But I wonder, and here I toss it over to any readers, what I have missed in this list and what (if anything) is a specifically Korean aspect to this change. I invite anyone to comment on this, and feel free to toss out entirely unbaked ideas, because .. who knows where they might lead?^^


]]> 8 12385

Cover of “Tears of Blood”

Korean Fiction Chapters: 1 / / 3 / 4/ 5 /

In 1877 King Gojong and Queen Min sent a group of Koreans to Japan to examine its technological and social changes. What they found amazed them, as while Korea had once considered itself the modern hub of Asia, Japan had modernized far beyond Korean expectations or experience. While Queen Min determined that Korea should embark on a program of modernization, it was strenuously opposed by many yangban who, correctly, saw it as a threat to the Confucian society in which they had prospered. At the same time there were also some yangban who supported modernization, and formed the Progressive Movement towards the conclusion of the 1870’s.  This group supported social and economic modernization including, controversially, equality of women.

Against this backdrop Korea began its first foray into modern literature. Some Korean critics date the Enlightenment Era back as far as 1860, arguing that at this time even the traditional literati, who still wrote in Chinese, were beginning to include themes or rebirth and enlightenment. At the same time the Tonghak Movement was founded by Ch’oe Che-u, in neo-Confucian reaction to “Western learning”. As the century continued to wind down, the force of the enlightenment grew, cresting in the last decade of the century, where some other critics date the beginning of the Enlightenment proper. But whenever one dates it from, the enlightenment period was contested and brief. Worse, it was violently distorted by Japanese colonialism. However, the massive, self-conscious efforts made during this era demonstrates that Korea was trying to figure out a way towards literary modernization, and it gives some hints of where that modernisation might have gone.

The so-called “New Novel” was a transitional form that developed partly in response to Korea’s increasing exposure to the outside world and prior to its complete colonialisation by Japan. By the 19th century the Joseon Dynasty was collapsing, the Japanese empire was rising, and western literary influences (albeit initially largely filtered through Japan and China) began to seep into Korean and affect Korean writers.  China fell into less repute as intellectuals attempted to reconstruct Korea as an independent nation. This lead to, among other things, a strong repudiation of Chinese as the language of Korean literature although Chinese modern literature did continue to have an impact on Korean literature..

The shift in literature was greatly bolstered by two social movements, the New Education and Korean Language and Literature Movement. In 1894 the Gabo Reforms introduced a new western style of education. At the same time publishing technology was changing as newspapers were becoming increasingly important, providing the first lighting rod for the literature of the Enlightenment Era. In fact, serial novels were a common aspect of most newspapers of the era, which is why they should be considered as part of Korean Literature, or its development.

The first Korean newspaper was the Hansong Sunbo (1883) and the government also published, initially in Chinese but eventually in Hangul and Hanja. Many other ‘modernizing’ newspapers leapt into existence, including the Pak Mun-guk. This newspaper’s mission was to proliferate new ideas, but it was only published for five years. A one-hundred percent Hangul newspaper did not exist until 1894 when the King and Queen sponsored the weekly  Ganjo Shimpo (The Seoul News). In 1896 the short-lived The Independent (1896-1899) was published in Hangul, then shut down by the government.  In quick succession multiple newspapers bloomed, most going out of business in 1910, with the complete advent of Japanese colonization.

SerializationNewspapers filled some of their pages with serialized novels, as well a sijo and kasa. The development of modern printing techniques made mercantile publishing possible. These developments allowed the possibility of the professional author, as opposed to the troubador, scholar, or didact of the classical era. Authors created a new form of literature call the sinsosol (new novel), and readers flocked to read these works. In addition, they printing press (which many historians point out was invented in Korea before Gutenberg got around to it) made it possible to print books, which became increasingly popular.

Sinsosol works properly began in the mid-1890’s and focused on issues of popular control, the importance of education, attacks on arranged marriage, and attacks on the evil of “old” beliefs, including superstition. Subjects tended to be contemporary with descriptive and analytical styles which were different from the philosophical, narrative and chronological style of classical literature. Moral didacticism still filled these works with evil punished and good rewarded, and characters still tended to be archetypes and not individuals as at this point literature was almost entirely focused on issues of modernization over any character’s particular personal details. Heroes were made of modernizers, while conservatives were portrayed as evil. Happy endings also tended to predominate and plots were, at best, haphazardly constructed out of series of coincidence and random events. Still, in comparison to previous literature, these works had a new kind of reality removed from the cliched plots and characters of classical fiction. These works dealt with large problems in daily contexts and thus drew readership while at the same time creating a second generation of authors.

Kim Hyunggyu notes that these works were predominantly concerned with the issues of the time, comprising. “modernization, national strength, educational reforms and changes in social customs.” (Kim 115). In other words, as Korean literature would come to almost exclusively be, concerned with the precise on concrete problems of the era in which they were written or placed. Even biographical novels, typically about heroes, focused tightly on the importance of nationalism and modern awareness.

One of the first works of Korean enlightenment fiction was published in 1906. Yi In-jik’s Tears of Blood was serialized in The Independence News. It told the story of a family in P’yongyang suffering during the Sino-Japanese War. Although, as part of sinsosol, Tears of Blood was written by a male, it used a female protagonist to question the Choseon notions of women as property and not ‘citizens.’ In Tears of Blood a young girl becomes a symbol of a modern Korean nation, putting her in opposition to her older, more traditional mother. Here was one of the first stories of the culture clashes that were to come between traditionalists and those who wanted to create a new, modern, nation.

After Yi In-jik came Yi Kwang-su, building a bridge between the “new” and the “modern” novels, who would come to be considered the father of Korean modern literature, although also an incredibly controversial figure for political and philosophical reasons which will shortly be discussed.  Yi Kwang-su advocated for shockingly modern beliefs including the scientific approach and romantic love.

Other authors followed and sinsosol, which were uniformly written in Hangul, continued to become more popular across this period. While these works were still strongly didactic – now most always espousing Enlightenment ideals – they broke with the abstractly contemplative and  highly artificial novels of the classical period. The novels included new narrative techniques (e;g; ‘out of time’ narratives) and more prosaic voices.

Biographical works were also popular, although their focus changed to suit the tastes of the enlightenment audience, meaning calls to the emerging national consciousness and strong appeals to patriotism. Tale of the Patriotic Lady (Chang Ji-yon, 1907) was perhaps the most representative work of this genre.

The influence of the West often came through China and Japan, but more and more it became direct. In 1895 Yu Kiljun, the first Korean to study in both the US and Japan, published his Things Seen and Heard on a Journey to the West. In 1895, John Scarth Gale, a translator of impressive religious output, translated John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress into Korean. Gale was also the beginning of a paradigm shift in Korea, as he translated many religious works, part of the process by which Christianity was introduced into Korea. From 1895 on, Gale was busy producing translations of parts of the Bible, and in 1910 a complete Bible was finally translated and published in Korea. As partial fruit of Gale’s efforts, by the end of the 20th century, nearly 30% of the population is some form of Christian, well outstripping Buddhism.

By the 20th century it was clear that an important split had come between classical and modern literature. Schools had been established, including schools for women (Ewha), the scientific approach was increasingly prevalent, and formal study of the Korean language itself all conspired to change the nature of writers and what they wrote.

But as noted at the outset, this was quick and incomplete era of literature, because in 1910, Japan assumed complete colonial control of Korea, and by the March 1st Movement of 1919, the “new novel”, which was essentially a didactic form of entertainment, was completely replaced by the “modern novel” which increasingly, while not abandoning all the themes of the “new novel” incorporated more and more influences from Japanese and Modern literature, and increasingly focused on problems of national survival and/or naturalism, for reasons discussed after a detour in the next chapter to examine the role of translators in the success of Korean literature overseas.

Korean Modern Literature: Bio of Kim Sagwa Wed, 30 Mar 2016 15:25:43 +0000 The Future of SilenceIn The Future of Silence (Great and reviewed at this link), Korean author Kim Sagwa is presented in English for the second time, the first time in an easily accessible format. I reached out to Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton for more information on Kim, and this is what they responded, which aligns with what I did know, but adds a lot to what I didn’t.^^

Kim Sagwa is one of South Korea’s most promising fiction writers. She was born in Seoul in 1984 and holds a BA in Creative Writing (2009) from the Korean National University of the Arts, where she studied under mentors such as Kim Youngha, arguably Korea’s most visible writer in English translation. By the time she graduated she had been honored with the 8th Creation and Criticism New Writers Award for her story “02,” received a grant from the Korean Culture and Arts Foundation (Seoul), and  published her first two novels, Mina (Mina, 2008) and P’ur i numnŭnda (The Grass Is Lying Down, 2009).

She has since published a book a year: the story collection 02 (2010), the young adult- novel Nabi ŭi ch’aek (Butterfly Book, 2011), the novel T’erŏ ŭi shi (City of Terror, 2012), the novel Ch’ŏnguk esŏ (In Heaven, 2013), and a book of travel essays, Sŏlt’ang ŭi mat (Taste of Sugar, 2014). These works have been shortlisted for several of the major South Korean literary awards: the Hwang Sunwŏn Prize (2011), the Munji Prize (2011), the Hanguk Daily Prize (2011 and 2012), the Young Writers Award (2012), and the Yi Hyosŏk Prize (2015).

In addition to her creative writing, Kim contributes columns to two Seoul dailies, has interviewed novelist Douglas Kennedy for Singles magazine (Korea), and co-translated into Korean John Freeman’s 2012 book How to Read a Novelist.

In recent years Kim has resided off and on in New York City, and in early 2016 she was issued a U.S. visa as an O-1 Alien of Extraordinary Ability in the Arts, granting her a three-year residency in the U.S.

She is represented in translation by:

  1. “It’s One of Those the-More-I’m-in-Motion-the-Weirder-It-Gets Days, and It’s Really Blowing My Mind,” in The Future Of Silence: Fiction By Korean Women, trans. Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton. Brookline, Mass.: Zephyr Press, 2016.
  2. “SF,” trans. Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature & Culture 7 (2014).

Mina. Fuveau, France: Decrescenzo, 2013.