Gong Ji-young, “The Crucible”, the movie and non-existent English book: A Modest Proposal

Han Cinema releases the happy news that the movie Silenced, based on Gong Ji-young’s novel The Crucible, will be released in the US on November 4th. I’m assuming the name change is so that the movie will not be confused with Arthur Miller’s work which was previously named The Crucible? What is interesting to me, is that this book has not been translated into English. In this post I’ll look at the impact the movie has had, both overseas and at home in Korea, speculate as to why it hasn’t been translated, and suggest a radical technique, cloud-translating and e-publishing, to overcome this problem.

First, how much press has this movie received in the US?


“The Crucible” has had an extraordinary impact”

-The New York Times: READ HERE

“Unsettling, “The Crucible” Revisits School Horror”

-The Wall Street Journal: READ HERE and HERE

“Nothing short of earth-shaking”

– The Economist: READ HERE



And of this coverage has related to the real-life social and legal effects that publication of the book and production of the movie have created in Korea. Korean Beacon notes:

Silenced has made a progressive impact by recently helping Korea’s National Assembly to pass a reformed bill on sexual crimes, reports The Korea Times. The “Dogani Law,” named after the Korean title of the film, significantly increases the prison sentence (up to life imprisonment) for offenders abusing children under 13 and the disabled.

Furthermore, the “Dogani Law” has also abolished a controversial clause, “inability to resist,” which had required victims, specifically those who are disabled, to prove that they were physically or mentally inept to resist properly when the crime was being committed—a loophole that gave sex offenders a way out.

With the government passing tighter laws, the police are also conducting an extensive re-investigation of the Inhwa case after more accounts of sexual abuse have been noted with some reporting that students without families were killed and secretly buried near the school, according to The Korea Times. Today, the Gwangju Inhwa School has officially shut down.

This is epic stuff. While the original laws were quite hideous, it is a testament to the power of literature, video, and public opinion that all these salutary changes have been made.  And yet this work is untranslated. I can only speculate as to why. Two other of her works have been translated, Human Decency (which KTLIT reviewed and did not like^^) and My Sister Bongsoon. Also, another translation is on the way, of Gong’s novel after The Crucible, Our Happy Times. Even stranger, I am aware of at least one translation of The Crucible that has already been completed by an internationally famous translator.

So why no publishing?

I have two theories.  First is that until recently The Crucible was not the kind of book that Koreans think ‘represents’ Korea well. Second is that the troublesome influence of literary agents may be making itself felt here.

As to the first point – the recent kerfuffle over the “Original Pizza” video has demonstrated that many Koreans are still uncomfortable with the publication of anything that even might reflect poorly on Korea. A brilliant summary of that has been provided by Stephen Epstein and Rumi Sakamoto which hints at the different ways that Koreans, English-language users, and the Japanese interpret these things.  It is worth noting that today’s Donga ilbo (I am told – I can’t find it)  quotes Gong as saying her work will be published in 2013, but that will be long after the publicity has died down. Now, with the success of the movie overwhelming, this barrier has been breached. And it should be – Korea has had no issue with translating pundan munhak, which often reads quite  horrifically. Additionally, and it can’t be noted too much, even though The Crucible tells a horrible story, it is ultimately a story of partial redemption and social victory.

The second issue might be that of literary agents. At the LTI Korea 5th Annual Translators Conference last September, there was a spirited discussion of what role such agents play, with a strong argument being made that in terms of translation, they are a hindrance. The literary agent is no different from the NBA agent, and their agendas may be quite different than that of translating entities and even the authors themselves. While all might agree that publishing more translations is in and of itself a good thing, an agent is narrowly focused on more Philistine issues. The version of The Crucible that has already been translated, is at least partially on hold because of disagreements between translators and an agent. I’m not in a position to judge how important this disagreement is overall, but I mention it because it is there, and this is an identified (primarily by translators) problem in the translation system.

But suppose my speculations are no more than that, speculations, and even wrong. That still leaves us in an unfortunate position. The book will not be published until well past its expiration date.  What can be done? I suggest using some modern techniques to get The Crucible on the shelf nearly immediately: cloud-sourcing and e-publishing.

First, cloud-sourcing the translation. I don’t mean put it out on the web for random translators to approach, but rather create a local cloud (if my network friends will allow that?) of skilled translators and editors. Get 6-10 translators working on it, by sections, with translators paired up for maximum breadth in the initial translation. At the same time, have the editors work with the translators while the work is being translated.

This last point is from experience. I work with the very talented Ed Park and our work is always the best (and quickest) when we sit in a room and work together.. Ed essentially dictates to me and I iron out small problems while I type – if there is a big issue we bat it around to make sure that we have got the cultural point across in the most accessible English possible. It’s a bit of a scrum, but it works.

Heck, if you got the folks from subject, object, verb together you’d have half of your team right there.

Then, publish the thing first as an e-book. Once the translation is done e-publishing is trivial and it gets a book like The Crucible out to the public while the public is still interested.

I think the e-book approach is something LTI Korea should consider in general. LTI  has a stable of in-house translators and a group of translation students. What  happens to the works these folks translate?  It would be great if they could be made available to widen the field of translated Korean literature. Tie this product to some efficient use of social media (twitter, facebook, comments on Amazon, posts on the Wikipedia, and you might really get some momentum going.






14 thoughts on “Gong Ji-young, “The Crucible”, the movie and non-existent English book: A Modest Proposal

  1. I absolutely agree with you. We don’t always need quality over speed. Reasonable quality now is often better than best quality later. And over time, we’ll get better, in crowd sourcing or other ways of organizing the work, and the quality gap will narrow as well.

  2. I have to respectfully disagree. While it’s true that getting high demand titles out in a timely fashion is optimum, team translation does not always produce faster, let alone better, results. In my own experience, the process tends to get bogged down in discussion, and the product can turn out overly compromised and worked over.

    Churning a book out in short order is of course possible, assuming that style is not a concern. But do we want to entirely scrap the “literary” from literary translation? Books take time, and it’s not even necessarily the actual translating that slows the process. You have to leave time for editing and revision. If anything, I think some books are pushed out into the market too soon.

    I also have to wonder how this would not drive the value of experienced literary translators down further. It’s hard enough to get by as it is. I just think there needs to be some balance between translation as a product for sale, and translation as a craft.

  3. Sora,

    Thanks for dropping by. I’ve been having this conversation half here and half on facebook.

    I agree with almost everything you say, but in this case I wanted to say some immediate things in response to your comment.

    I see your last fear – that publishers might try to turn translation into an “animation farm” type process. But I think the advantages to really good translators that you adumbrate, mean that the animation farm process should only be used in situations where time is of the essence. Much more important, I would argue that the the literary translator is monstrously UNDERvalued and the value should go up, substantially. If a translator can’t support themselves purely through translation, the situation will never be good. And even when I think of the team approach, I think of the same amount (which should be more) of money being paid, just divvied up.

    And obviously speed can kill.

    Your concerns about team translation are also sensible – some of that can be addressed in process, perhaps some of it can’t. There is certainly something to be said for multiple eyes, and something to be said against homogenization. In my case, my one experience with team translation was good, but that might have something to do with the particular situation in that class, which I’ll explore a bit more tomorrow.

    Finally, I think I wasn’t clear that I was explicitly tying this approach to epublication – where iteration is a possibility and one of the key benefits is, again, speed. There are some specific things going on at this moment that suggest quick publication would be a very good thing.

    Also, I like epublication (which I barely touched on), for things that can’t get commercially published. I know this might be touchy for authors and agents (among others), but this is part of the wave of the future, and I think Korean literature needs to learn to ride it.

  4. I’m so glad that this movie is being released in the US. The students in my Composition class are all writing about it in their journals.

  5. Bybee,

    I’ll be interested to hear what your students think – it is certainly an interesting topic.

    What age are your students?

  6. I have university students. They are shocked, horrified, disgusted…lots of raw emotion. Such a change from what they usually write.

    I hope the book is published soon.

  7. I hope the English translation is out soon. Just Netflixed the Movie and cried through 90% of it. My sister in another state is watching as I type. I can’t believe I’ve never heard about this movie before.

  8. Were the names of the teachers ever released? Does anybody know what happened to the victims after the case?
    This movie was intense and made me cry… It’s a hard pillow to swallow that there are monsters out there who take advantage of innocent children.
    I would love to read the book, if they ever do translate it.

  9. I just saw this on Netflix today. My bottom lip trembled the whole time and I definitely cried. I was disgusted at how many cheeks were turned even after it was clear that the abuse was taking place. I was even more horrified (and I am not journalist so correct me if I’m wrong) that the events this movie and book were based off took place in 1964. I read that AFTER the film was released some cases were appealed and SOME teachers were convicted, most specifically a teacher was convicted for an incident that took place in 2005. Not to mention the book was released in 2009 while the movie was released in 2011. So if you really do the math: this school, generations of kids, and hundreds of people all witnessed and were victims of SEVERAL types of abuse for over 50 years! You also have to think about how the whole thing was set up. I’m sure there is no coincidence this school was ran by sadistic perverts who catered to disabled orphans and alike. I’m not sure who is more sick, the ones who actually committed the crimes or the ones who let it go on. I don’t care how much money in the world there is to offer, there is absolutely no way possible someone could ask me to even think something like this was going on and not speak up. I just don’t understand how they got through so many loopholes. I mean did they really pay off the whole police force, every law enforcement in the country, and every citizen? It’s such a shame. All my emotions just boiled over with the ending though, I couldn’t believe how the people that protested at the boy’s funeral were treated. They took the time and energy to hose, arrest, and beat people that were just sitting in the street but did nothing but put the children that came to them for help back in the arms of their abusers.
    Sorry for the rant … I needed a release though. Thank you for this post. It’s nice to know someone cares about spreading the story.

  10. I just watched this on netflix today and it is absolutely astonishing to me that this happened and nothing was really done 6 months and a year on probation are you kidding… i am sharing this movie with everyone that I know!! please get the translated book out asap
    katie in tennessee

  11. Does anyone know if the book has been translated to English, Spanish, or Italian? I been looking for it everywhere I can but I had no luck. I really want to read the book but my Korean it’s not good enough.

  12. It’s been almost 4 years since the release of the movie and no english translation has been published!
    I really want to read the book even though I watched the movie << it was tormenting! you eventually become speechless to what crime they have committed. us viewers were feeling so suffocated by what has been viewed..I can not even fathom what the victims felt and still feel!!

  13. I’m a french high school student and i’m very passionate about Korea. ‘The Crudible’ is my favorite movie, I cry at the end and thank to this movie, I want to be a lawyer to defend peoples like that. I think it’s the most beautiful movie, i ever seen. Gong yoo and the kids are such amazing actors !!! I realy hope the book will be translate, so i could read it.

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