Understand Modern Korean Literature, Fast! One Weird Trick!

Bi-lingual Edition Modern Korean Literature

Bi-lingual Edition Modern Korean Literature

Also known as “The triumph of the “the Bi-lingual Edition Modern Korean Literature Collection”

Sometimes I get things horribly wrong. And one of those things was the Bi-lingual Edition Modern Korean Literature collection published by Asia Publishers.

How wrong was I? I titled my first post about this series, The Death of Self-inflicted Cuts – 15 new books that will have no impact. And while some of my complaints (particularly that the covers are pretty dire) still have relevance, the fact is that having the entire three-collection series in my hands has completely changed how I feel about them. These books, along with the books currently being published in the LTI Korea / Dalkey Archive collection are going to completely alter the landscape of translated Korean literature. And in less than two years, which is pretty amazing in itself.

The three collections are broken down into three categories each, as follows.

Collection 1
Division
Industrialization
Women

Collection 2
Liberty
Love and Love Affairs
South and North

Collection 3
Seoul
Tradition
Avant Garde

That’s a total of 45 books, covering the period from end of the war to the present.

To call these works “books” is probably incorrect. Most of these works are longish short-stories or novellas; their size expanded a bit by the fact that the Korean version is on alternate pages from the English, and the fact that a summary, critical analysis (sometimes hysterically blockheaded^^), and short biography of each author is included. This can be very useful for readers who don’t have extensive cultural and historical knowledge of Korea, because that is usually supplied in the summary and analysis. You can read the short story, think about it a little bit, then dive into the summary and analysis to see what you got from the story and what you didn’t. In at least one case, In The Trunk by Jeong Yi-hyun, I completely missed the significance of the last scene, and the summary helped me to quickly understand what I had missed, and thus made the story better for me.

The authors and stories are among Korea’s most famous (Mother’s Stake by Park Wansuh) and most cutting edge (Jung Young-moon’s Mrs. Brown). The translations are all excellent. There is (at least) one case in which a translator simply revisited a translation they had published earlier; Yi Cheong-jun’s The Wounded, which is republished here in a translation by Jennifer Lee that only slightly differs from the translation she did a decade ago for an LTI Korea/Jimoondang publication.

I’d suggest that it useful to think of these as not individual books, but as three short story collections. With one weird note – to buy them from Amazon as a collection means paying more than buying them individually. In Korea buying the books individually would cost about 90,000 won, while they can be found in the collection for closer to 70,000 won. Online, which is where readers outside Korea will have to find these books, the opposite is true, which is quite insane. The collection sells for $118.00 while the individual books sell for $7.00 each, or $105.00 when all are purchased separately. I have no idea who decided on this pricing, but they should probably be packed in bubble-wrap and shipped to an uninhabited island.^^ Perhaps ordering the collection will reduce the shipping costs, but, really. WTF?

LOL, it’s probably worth it to buy the collection just to have them all at once, and to get the semi-handsome box in which they come.

A great set of books in three collections, and for somewhere around $260.00 a reader can buy a comprehensive survey of late-modern and early post-modern Korean fiction.

It’s a bargain!

Buy now them at Amazon
Collection 1
Collection 2
Collection 3 (From Seoul Selection in Seoul)

3 thoughts on “Understand Modern Korean Literature, Fast! One Weird Trick!

  1. So frustrating that the Asia Publishers website has so little information about these books in their English section. If you dig hard enough in their bulletin board you find a translated article from the Hankyoreh which gives you the titles of the first 15 books. But then you lose the will to live. Wouldn’t you expect a publisher to have its own PR? Wouldn’t you expect a publisher to try to make sure a contents list ends up on amazon.com? And try to get the thing listed on a European website? It’s as if they received a grant to cover the costs of getting all this printed, and now don’t need to bother to sell it. Which is a shame, because there’s at least one buyer out there. For me, this is an epic fail.

  2. Dear LKL,

    You are spot-on, and combined with even more Amazon hijinks, I plan to talk more about this in post soon to come.

    I hope all is well in London in the run-up to the book fair?

    Charles..

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