Korean Novel ‘Taebaek Mountain Range’ to be Published in English and Russian Languages

KTLIT LogoFrom the Knowledge Pen website, the folks who are going to be publishing the book are announcing two new versions of Taebaek Mountain Range by Jo Jung Rae.

Knowledge Pen is proud to announce the signing of a contract with Jo Jung Rae, a prominent contemporary Korean author, to translate and publish Taebaek Mountain Range (in Korean:태백산맥) into both English and Russian.

A summary of the story:

Taebaek Mountain Range tells the story of Korea’s partition into North and South after its liberation from the Japanese occupation at the end of the Forties. This period of tremendous social and political upheaval has defined Korea’s destiny as a divided country. For Jo Jung Rae, understanding Korea’s past holds the key to the future – to resolving the ongoing confrontation between North and South Korea.

The book is long, how long is difficult to tell, but translated into French it is reproduced in 10 “Tomes” (lol!) the last of which weighs a pound in shipping! The always useful _list Magazine has a lengthy article on the book which you can search the _list site for, which notes that in Korea the book has already gone through a remarkable 200 printings. There is also a museum.

Taeback Mountain Range has already been made into a successful movie in Korea, The Tae Baek Mountains, directed by Im Kwon-taek and starring Ahn Seong-ki, Kim Myeong-kon, Kim Gap-su, Shin Hyeon-jun, Oh Jeong-hae.

It is difficult to say when the book will actually come out, with the website coyly noting, “The English translation of the first volume of the novel is due to be completed by October 2012,” which predicts nothing about publication.

10 thoughts on “Korean Novel ‘Taebaek Mountain Range’ to be Published in English and Russian Languages

  1. Hello Charles,

    Thank you for your comment. My name is Natalia and I am representing Knowledge Pen that is due to start working on the translation of the Jo Jung Rae’s novel. Because we have just signed a contract for translating Taebaek Mountains Range with the author, we were unable to state the exact date of the publication of the first volume. I hope we will be able to let you know about this in the near future.

    Thank you for your interest in the book and for posting the news here.

  2. This book, while good, will attract very few readers.

    A book that is 4,000 pages in its French translation will be essentially unread.

    It reflects the strong preference in ROK for prestige books rather than books with a broad readership.

  3. Hi Charles,

    Thank you for your opinion. I should admit it differs a lot from mine.
    And that makes the discussion with you even more interesting 🙂

    We chose the book based on its literary value and the impact it had on the Korean society.
    A book that is just “good” would not sell 7 million copies. There are reasons why books become prestige books.

    I see no problem with it being long. War and Peace, Les Miserables, Doctor Zhivago are all long books, not to mention The Lord of the Rings and Harry Porter (although I think we speak about different genres here).

    I think that for a book to be successful and find its readers, it needs more than just translation (even very good translation). To be successful, a book needs publicity and marketing. In other words, the book needs its pioneers who would create an awareness and set agenda for the book to be noticed.

    Thank you for your reference to 마당을 나온 암탉. We are also interested in publishing Korean children’s books and think they have potential to attract significant readership.

  4. Natalia:

    I think that your effort is laudable, and I wish you much success.

    I want to be clear that I see nothing wrong with a book being long — I just think that it makes it commercially unreasonable to publish because sales will be too low.

    Though I will be happy to be proven wrong, I do not think that this translation will sell 7 million copies in English-language markets or anything near that.

    I believe that in these days for a very long book to sell at those levels, it needs to be a genre book, such as LOTR or HP.

    Very few literary fiction books sell that at those high levels in English-language markets.

    And of those that do, even fewer are very long.

    And of those, 4000 pages is really extraordinarily long.

    I believe that books of science fiction and fantasy (based on sales data) are the long books that are most likely to sell in English-language markets.

    And, I believe that mysteries, science fiction, erotica, romance, are the books that will most likely sell to an English-language market.

    I would urge you to consider a really great book from any of those 4 genres for translation and publication.

  5. I had that “War and Peace” moment of thought last night. And since this seems (I may be wrong, Natalia’s name may be confusing me^^) to be at least partially a Russian-based effort (the second translation language being Russian also leads me here), it may be a case of translators following their interest.

    Which I’m all for, and the more translations the merrier.

    Still, I always agree with Charles that more genre translations (and, again, perhaps you could argue that Taebaek is one of these) are the key to more mainstream success…

    There is more than one way, or, as the great literary critics The Cure once said:

    “hand in hand is the only way to land.”^^

  6. I wish the project success – though having started the English translation of a chunk of T’oji I’m afraid I ground to a halt because of the snail’s pace of the narrative. I’ll give Taebaek Mountains a go for the sake of the Im Kwon-taek film. But maybe only volume 1. I don’t have the shelf space for any more. Actually, this would be an ideal candidate for an e-book.

  7. Pingback: Jo Jung-rae’s Taebaek Mountains to be translated | London Korean Links

  8. I wish much success with the books, Natalia.

    I once tried to translate snippets of if during my grad school years. My aim was to see how the regional dialects will play when translated. While it is true that the story line alone can be riveting, regional dialects give much authenticity, symbolic representation and flavor (among other things) to the book. Imagine books dealing with African Americans in the south and taking away their regional dialects! (BTW, simply substituting the dialects found in Taebaek with another dialect in America in English translation, of course, may pose more problems than solutions.)

    Natalia, do you have specific plans in dealing with this issue?

  9. Any news on a possible publication date? Many readers aiming to complete Peter Boxall’s list of “1001 books to read before you die” want to know!! Please say it’s coming out soon! 🙂

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