Translate What? Granta, Pakistan and Implications for Korean Lit

A really interesting essay over on the New York Times website, titled “Midnight’s Other Children.” (sometimes this link requires registration, sometimes it does not). Th

It talks about the differences between Granta’s “rollout” of Indian translated literature and now Pakistani translated literature.  The article makes several points, but among the most important is the difference in the KIND of literature that Granta chose to present, and what that might mean for potential readers.

About the Indian lit roll-out it says:

The issue, which consisted largely of contributions from native Indians writing in English, was a testament both to the country’s extraordinary intellectual and artistic richness, and to one of the few legacies of British colonialism that could be unequivocally celebrated by readers in South Asia and the West: a common language.

Which, to my marketing brain, sounds sensible (though I’d like to be clear I’m not saying Korean literature should be written in English, rather that translations should be “a testament both to the country’s extraordinary intellectual and artistic richness.”  The NYT goes on to say:

In the ensuing years, the American appetite for Indian culture has only grown

I would call that a win and walk away. And again, I think the implications for Korean literature are clear: Get some good understandable fiction out there, and the general appetite for Korean fiction will grow.

So.. the Pakistani’s want in, because:

“I think everyone has been waiting for Pakistani literature to burst out,” Fatima Bhutto, another Granta contributor (and a niece and granddaughter of Pakistani prime ministers), told me recently. “It’s always been there, and yet it has been untapped.”

Which sounds very similar to the situation for Korean fiction at the moment, however…..

Then, the NYT discusses the roll-out for Pakistani lit, and guess what, they’ve gone for the equivalent of pundan munhak:

Granta’s Pakistan is a country of jihadists, anti-Americanism and increasingly misogynistic and brutal forms of Islam. Mohsin Hamid’s terse short story, for example, is a first-person tale of being beheaded; it ends with the narrator describing “the sound of my blood rushing out.”

The strong implication there being that this is not exactly what English readers are going to flock to. Isaac Chotiner, the author, attempts to leave us with the conclusion that, “oh, this is ok, I guess it could lead to more cultural understanding,” but that sentiment seems forced.

All of which I post, of course, because of the similarities one can find between the Granta Pakistani effort and the general Korean effort. Isn’t it time to choose some works to translate that might be…. “gasp!”…. enjoyable for readers?

One thought on “Translate What? Granta, Pakistan and Implications for Korean Lit

  1. “Granta’s Pakistan is a country of jihadists, anti-Americanism and increasingly misogynistic and brutal forms of Islam.”
    I wonder what Granta’s editors think of that characterization. Perhaps they would shrug and say, “Well, this is the best writing coming out of there, so this is what we selected.”

    It kind of reminds me of a Mark Twain quote: “War talk by men who have been in a war is always interesting; whereas moon talk by a poet who has not been in the moon is likely to be dull.”

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