Yi Mun-yol’s story “An Anonymous Island”, and Heinz Insu Fenkl in The New Yorker

I first noticed this news in an email update from Kokkiri at the excellent Subject Object Verb. Yi Mun-yol has had his story An Anonymous Island published in the New Yorker, which is certainly good news. Unfortunately, it is a subscription/pay by the story deal, so you’ll have to pay to read the thing.

This makes Yi Mun-yol the first Korean fiction writer to be published in the New Yorker.

The good news is that the New Yorker has also interviewed translator Heinz Insu Fenkl in an article that is open to the public and describes the story as:

is set in an isolated village in the mountains, where the narrator is taking up her first post as a teacher.

Fenkl is a brilliant interview subject, veering between detailed descriptions of the “physiognomy of names,” to larger issues including  “themes of division, estrangement, and the search for connection,” themes common to Yi Mun-yol as well as much other literature from authors of his age.

Throw in a little biographical detail and you have a piece well worth reading.

Fenkl also mentions something I’ve been aware of for a bit, that he is about to publish a new version of Yi’s classic Meeting With My Brother, which had previously been published under the Jimoondang/KLTI imprimatur with the name An Appointment With my Brother and was reviewed on KTLIT here.

Even better, he is hard at work on a translation of Yi’s Hail to The Emperor, which he describes as:

a novel permeated with arcane knowledge like Hermann Hesse’s “Magister Ludi” with the tragic and epiphanic elements of “King Lear” and set in Korea and Manchuria with references to Taoism, Shamanism, Buddhism, and Confucianism

Sounds great, and its nice to see the globalization of Korean literature moving along.

7 thoughts on “Yi Mun-yol’s story “An Anonymous Island”, and Heinz Insu Fenkl in The New Yorker

  1. It does sound very good.

    But,……..

    “a novel permeated with arcane knowledge like Hermann Hesse’s “Magister Ludi” with the tragic and epiphanic elements of “King Lear” and set in Korea and Manchuria with references to Taoism, Shamanism, Buddhism, and Confucianism”

    is unlikely to result in many readers.

    It is all too arcane.

    How many readers realistically will enjoy a book that is described even by its translator as arcane, and filled with references to things that clearly ARE arcane for most English-language readers?

  2. Arcane, maybe, but Korea may be the only country where such references are almost unremarkable, given her cultural history.

  3. I doubt that.

    This seems to be a book written for the effete.

    One can hardly believe that most South Koreans who have received a university education have routine discussions about Racine’s Brittanicus, or Hesse, or Shakespeare’s King Lear, or Louis Couperus, etc.

    Certainly, when one encounters expatriate South Koreans who were university educated, they have no such deep levels of intellectual mastery.

    That is why I believe that however laudatory this book is, its readership is likely to be very limited.

    Genre fiction is far more likely to achieve wide-scale readership.

    And such readership generates the funds necessary to sustain Korean translators who wish to master their skills through full-time professional activity.

  4. Charles,
    I am married to a university graduate who taught middle school English in Korea. She has discussed all the items originally listed, with the exception of King Lear, though she has talked about other Shakespeare plays (as well as opera and Western art).
    Racine, etc. , I grant you…as a grouping, those are out of the orbit of most people anywhere. Well, except for this blog, maybe. 🙂
    Charlie

  5. Your spouse no doubt is a gem.

    However, generalising to ROK university graduates generally, I see no evidence that they are so well educated.

    Their foreign language skills are often remarkable weak, as one example.

    When I visit northern Europe, all Finnish university graduates speak remarkably good English.

    Visits to Seoul yield no such positive impression for university graduate interlocutors.

    And, they rarely appear to be terribly intellectually curious.

    Mentions of literature are often met with a response that shows that they generally avoid literary fiction, and focus on genre fiction.

    If a Belgian university graduate is generally fluent in at least 2 or 3 languages, I doubt that most ROK university graduates are fluent in more than Korean.

    They are not unique, of course. Japanese have the same problem.

    Chinese seem to be rather better, although it may be that there are simply so many more Chinese university graduates that there is an observer bias.

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