This is so weird it is almost perverse. Korea Magazine decided to do a special on Korean literature consisting of one major article and four sidebars. The article is in English and intended for English audiences. It is entitled Korean Literature Reaches out to a Wider Audience.
… it is a bit of a blunder.
The article begins with interesting categories that I’m not quite sure are a complete taxonomy of (translated at least) Korean literature. These are, History and Memory, Family, and Love. Certainly, much of Korean literature since colonialization has been about remembering an often troubled history. Love, also, has been a consistent category, since one of the major issues of Korean literature, since Yi Kwang-su’s Heartless, has been to try to figure out the role of ‘love’ in a partly post-Confucian environment. Family, I’m not so certain is a complete category to itself, it seems this category was chosen so that there was a convenient category in which to place Shin Kyung-sook, who can hardly be ignored at this point.^^
These categories seem to be about 15 years old, and don’t include any of the ‘post-modern’ (for lack of a better word) fiction that has been written by Kim Young-ha, Park Min-gyu, of Jo Kyung-ran, to name a few. Still, it is adequate for a beginning.
It is when one dives into the categories that the WTF? moment is achieved.
Many, in fact a majority, of the works discussed are NOT available in English.
The History and Memory section discusses:
Yi Mun-yol’s The Heroic Age
Kim Joo-young’s autobiographical novels including A Skate Fish and Anchovy
As far as I can tell NONE of these three works are available in English. This is particularly bizarre with respect to Yi, who has at least 5 novels/novellas translated into English, but they are not mentioned. Kim Joo-youngs’ inclusion is merely ridiculous, since Amazon reveals no translated works at all.
The Family section is almost equally perverse.
It begins with Park Wan-suh’s Mom’s Stake which is a short story that as far as I know can only be found in collections (Sketch of the Fading Sun) and is sometimes named Mother’s Hitching Post, which would further complicate a reader’s attempt to find it. But what makes this choice completely odd is that the author completely neglects Park’s recent novel, Who Ate up All the Shinga, which was one of the relative successes of recent Korean translated fiction and can be easily found on Amazon.
The other story in the Family section is, thankfully and predictably, Shin Kyung-sook’s world-beating Please Look After Mom, about which I don’t have to say much except that it was a major bestseller and can be easily found. Which makes this the first work discussed in the article to fit in those categories.
The Love section includes several works:
Yun Dae-nyong’s Beetle Woman
Jung Yi-hyun’s Romantic Love and Society
Again, we have no books that have been translated into English, and in fact two authors who I am not sure have been translated at all (Yun Daenyoung – under that spelling, has had Between Heaven and Earth translated). Confusingly, discussing Jung Yi-hyun’s story the article says, “The message of the novel becomes clearer if you change the title to Romantic Love and Society.” Which is, of course, the name previously given for the novel.
In the following section 4 ambassadors discuss books they would recommend. Only one ambassador, the awesome Mr. Lars Danielsson, Ambassador of Sweden mentions a book in English, The Guest. So, again this is pretty worthless for any English-language reader who this article might entice into being interested in Korean literature. I should note, just in passing, that one of the other contributors is Jaroslav Olsa, the Czech Ambassador, who is a darn fine guy and, like me, has been awarded an honorary citizenship of Seoul for 2012.
This article is a “Collaboration between Korean Culture and Information Service and Literature Translation Institute of Korea,” and it is one of the few unsuccessful things I have seen LTI Korea do in the last few years. This would have been an appropriate article for LTI’s LIST Magazine, which is intended to introduce non-translated works to potential publishers overseas, but as an article introducing English-language readers to Korean literature it is a mis-step.
The analysis sections of this article are fine and dandy, but it is not going to lead any readers to Korean fiction, with the possible exception of Please Look After Mom, which may be the only translated Korean novel that actually needs no introduction to the English-speaking world.