One of the first works of literature to deal with the immigrant experience was the novel “Wandeugi” (2008) by Kim Ryeo-ryeong, which describes the obstacles faced by a multiethnic family in Korea. The book sold more than 600,000 copies and was later made into a film starring Korean actor Yu A-in and Filipino actor Jasmine Lee.
Of course, what they really mean is the first book to deal with multiculturalism in a truly affectionate way, for there have been previous works of Korean fiction that dealt with multiculturalism.
The piece mainly deals with poetry, but it also notes that a
short story that deals with multiculturalism is “Elephant” by Kim Jae-young. Professor Lee from Soongsil University said it is the most widely known short story on multiculturalism among academics, though it is not widely known among the general public.
I think that LTI Korea has translated Elephant somewhere, though I can’t find it at this moment. Along those lines, I know that LTI Korea has translated Kang Yong-sook’s Brown Tears, which is a Wandeugi-esque (though not a comedy) examination of a multi-cultural neighborhood. KTLIT has reviewed (and won an LTI Korea award for it) that story here.
I would mention, among many other stories that actually did deal with multiculturalism, and long before it was a trendy topic:
- Chinatown by Oh Jung-hee, which explores, in a rather unsympathetic way, both US GI’s and Chinese immigrants, both of whom are rather emphatically placed in the camp of the ‘other.’
- America by Cho Hae-il, which is an unsparing but honest look at the impact of a US army base on an outskirt town.
- Kim Yong-ik’s, brilliant They Won’t Crack It Open, which is more of an inspection of how cultures interact differently when introduced to each other’s native lands.
- The amusing Kapitan Ri, by Chon Kwangyong, the story of a man who can thrive in any culture that is thrown at him.