Interview with Chi-Young Kim, translator of “The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly”

ChiYoungGoodChi-Young Kim, translator extraordinaire (Please Look After Mom and Your Republic is Calling You, among a string of triumphs) and sometime chum of KTLIT, took  time out of her busy schedule to do an interview with KTLIT (actually, an interview for the students in my Ph.D. class, who are extremely interested in Kim’s experience and advice).

How busy is she? Chi-Young tells us that, “My next translation will be coming out next year: The Investigation by Jung-myung Lee. It was published as 별을 스치는 바람 (Ed’s Note: The wind brushing a star/The wind which brushes a star<ahref=”#foo”>1) last year. It will be published by Mantle (Macmillan) in the UK.” She also has the next translation in her sights, and when it becomes official we’ll be happy to pass that info along here.

With that update, here is the interview with Kim, which

1) Tell us The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly: A Novel the book you just finished translating?

This novel follows a feisty hen who wants a bigger life for herself: she wants to lay and hatch an egg. She ends up leaving the coop and surviving on her own, and becomes the mother to a duckling. The two navigate the world around them as they learn to deal with their differences and their dreams for life. It’s the ultimate story of celebrating your uniqueness and the art of letting go.
2) What was your translation process on this book, and how long did it take?

The editor who acquired this book contacted me in April of last year and I submitted the final manuscript in October. So about four or five months. It was pretty quick, but then again it’s a slim book. The right tone was a little elusive at first, because it’s a simple, austere story. To prepare I read a number of recent, highly regarded children’s literature in English.

3) Very briefly, what is your translation goal?

In all of my translations, I aim to create a text in English that will allow the English reader to have the same emotions and experience as the Korean reader.

4) And what is your strategy to achieve it?

A lot of editing! And finding the right tone is critical.

5) I don’t know if you recall, but many years ago we met at COEX in Seoul and you  predicted the success of Please Look After Mom, even speculating that it might be an Oprah Book. Do you have any predictions for The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly: A Novel?

Wow, I don’t remember that at all. (I mean, I remember chatting with you that day and talking about all sorts of other things…) I’m really excited about this book. I think it has a great potential to touch people. This book will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled with being different or wanted something more for oneself.

6) I know that when you translated “Mom” you spent a lot of time working with Shin Kyung-sook to make the translated product easier for English-language readers to understand (adding details, names, re-ordering some things). Did you do that on this work as well? How did you work with Hwang?

I changed the names of the two main characters, because the literal translation was a little cheesy for my liking. Instead of Leafie or Leaf, I chose Sprout; I liked the strong, feisty connotation Sprout has. Instead of Greenie or Greenhead, I chose Greentop. These new names sounded more energetic, more appropriate for the characters than the original ones. The editor was fine with that. I asked the author some questions the editor had, but because this novel has fewer uniquely Korean aspects to it, I didn’t work with the author as extensively as I did for Please Look After Mom.
7) You’ve translated stories about young boys, lost mothers, hens, how is your approach different across these topics?

It’s probably more similar than it’s different. I always try to capture the author’s tone. That’s the hardest, most elusive thing to “get.” Some are easier than others, especially if the author’s tone matches my own. I do a lot of research by reading a lot of English novels with similar tones and moods, sometimes in a specific period.

8) Semi–related, I’m just now reading Youngnan Yu (Note: This is a terribly unfair question, a kind of “gotcha journalism”, as Youngnan Yu is Kim’s mother^^)

Oh, I love that book. She has decades more experience, obviously, and her expertise is unparalleled. The best part is when we’re actually physically in the same room together and we talk shop. It’s so fun. We troubleshoot together sometimes, and we can do that for hours on end. She’s also still my first reader and editor. Everything I’ve ever done, she’s looked at. It’s like having your very own brain trust you can call up at any time.

9) You’ve done 7 major translations now, and each one has presented different kinds of creative tasks – does working with all this literature, in fact making literary decisions, lead you any closer to writing yourself?

Not yet! Still completely content translating. It’s my tenth year doing this, and it gets more interesting and fulfilling every year. I feel like I have way more to learn. With every new project, I find myself encountering new challenges, and that’s truly the best part of this job. Also, I don’t have time! I already have a full plate with the translation gigs and my full-time day job, and I sometimes wish I could have an extra three hours a day.

10) Any advice or last words for our readers?

Please keep reading Korean literature! And buying books!

11) Any words of advice for my Master’s/Ph.D translation class who are struggling with trying to do good translations into English while still living in Korea?

Read a lot of English literature! The best way to learn to translate is to learn to write well.



The Korean title is apparently drawn from the come from the famous Korean poem 서시 by 윤동주, which leads off the collection of poetry 하늘과 바람과 별과 시.

2 thoughts on “Interview with Chi-Young Kim, translator of “The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly”

  1. I have some Insights about Universal Literature-and the Korean Literature…
    I Believe that Every book has his own special world.
    And I also believe that Values in literature are the same as values in life;
    We can always judge the value of any piece of literatureby the number of genuine emotions or thoughts which it call forth from us
    And about the Korean Literature:
    It is often Interesting ,I have found,to study even to count.
    The Korean literature is a newland for me.
    There are new thoughts and new emotions-I developed;
    Which are Connected these qualities which fine pieces of this new literature.
    One quality is perhaps an admiration.
    second-A an ardent Couriosity
    Another-is the Understanding of combination of goodness and evil-which may live in the human beings..
    But now-In the Korean Literature.
    Sometimes -these qualities tartle me by their newess…
    Carried me into an undiscovered country…
    so-I have always thought of many of these,when I have studied Universal Literature…
    And now they became a part of life…When I began to study the Korean Literature…

    If it demands new feelings,new understanding,we can be sure that is has value

    Literature abounds in reputations that continue-unfolds though the works which made them are no longer current.Life has reflected art.

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