Two contributors, the Editor and the Translator arrived at Le Café, near exit 7 of Yangjae Station, about 15 minutes in advance of our meeting. Our photographer arrived a few minutes later, and author Han Gang arrived exactly at the stroke of 3, as we had arranged.
Then, she was quickly bustled off to a nearby stream, so our photographer could get just the shot he wanted. This turned into an over a half an hour thing, so we sat in the café hoping that Ms. Gang was not upset at being dragged out into the 32 degree weather.
When she returned we were y struck by how friendly, even happy, she seems, an impression that a reader of her work might not expect. B
We began our conversation with a silly question about the photos her publisher has used in her books, and then ranged over topics far and wide. But to read that interview, you will have to pick up the next edition of KOREA Magazine, and we’ll be informing you about that, when the time comes that it publishes.
Our wacky photographer re-appeared about 35 minutes later, and wanted (for some reason) to take a second set of photos, which kind of broke things up, but Ms. Han was good-natured throughout. Then a 45 minute interview and at the end, we broke out a stack of books, and happily, Han signed them all, mostly to the Interpreter, but two to me.
Pursuant to our meeting, Ms. Han sent a couple of things in an email that represented news to me (and will all shortly be updated on the Wikipedia, which was why she sent them):
- Despite the widely believed (and previously believed by me) rumor that her name was a pen name, “Han Gang” is her given name.
- A report that a particular quote from Yi-Sang helped inspire Vegetarian is actually overstated. Han says, ” I just liked the expression when I was a university student and thought of the poem sometimes while I was writing the novel. I don’t think it had such significant role about the process of writing.”
- Finally, there is a story that Han once said she is happy when her readers are sad, but this is not completely true. Han says, “a newspaper reporter asked me long time ago, ‘How would you feel when readers said that they had become sad after reading your works?’ I answered carefully, ‘Well, I would be pleased, because it would mean that my works had changed someone, somehow.’ Somehow, over time, this has been construed to mean that Han like making her readers sad, when in truth (and, again, check out the upcoming KOREA Magazine) her intent is to make her readers think about the spectrum of human thought and activity.
Also, Han thoughtfully included a short biography, written by U Chan-je, which lays out Han’s life in a bit more detail.
Han Kang was born in Gwangju in 1970. Since the
age of ten, she grew up in Suyuri, Seoul after her
family moved there. Suyuri is where Han spent the
longest time and features as a place of affectionate
recollection in her stories including Greek Class. She
studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. Han
made her literary debut as a poet by publishing five
poems, including “Winter in Seoul,” in the winter
issue of Munhak-gwa-sahoe (Literature and Society)
in 1993. She began her career as a novelist the next
year by winning the 1994 Seoul Shinmun Spring
Literary Contest with “Red Anchor.” She published
her first short story collection entitled Yeosu (Munji
Publishing Company) in 1995. She participated in
the University of Iowa International Writing Program
for three months in 1998 with support from the Arts
Council Korea. Her publications include a short
story collection, Fruits of My Woman (2000); novels
such as Black Deer (1998), Thy Cold Hand (2002),
Vegetarian (2007), Breath Fighting (2010), and
Greek Class (2011). Her stories feature characters
with special interests in art or music, and this
reflects her own interests. She won the 25th Korean
Novel Award with her novella, “Baby Buddha” in
1999, the 2000 Today’s Young Artist Award, the
2005 Yi Sang Literary Award with “Mongol Spot,”
and the 2010 Dongri Literary Award with Breath
Fighting, “Baby Buddha” and Vegetarian have been
made into films. Han currently teaches creative writing
at the Seoul Institute of the Arts while writing
stories and novels.
Han Kang creates idiosyncratic words, breathing
life into them uniquely so they ripple outward. No
matter what subject matter she deals with, she presents
her readers with profound ripples only she
can create with her own stubborn style, imagination,
and subject. Her characters are those who suffer
from all the ills of the world, those who are
deeply hurt. Delving deeply into their wounds, Han
asks and explores why existence has to be such an
affliction, why the world has to be so painful… Her
classical style of writing seemed ironically unusual
during the postmodernist 1990s when deconstructionist,
filmic, and kitschy styles were in vogue. I’m
not saying that she wrote in an entirely old-fashioned
style. Han tends to transform the mythos
found in classical novels into an abnormal mentality
with a modern or postmodern twist. People accepted
her approach as a deviation from the old ways,
an interpretation that still seems true of her stories.