Recently, Koreans were greatly encouraged and elated by the news that The Vegetarian had won the prestigious Man Booker International Prize. Thanks to the prominent novelist Han Kang and her outstanding translator Deborah Smith, Korean literature is now receiving its fair share of attention from the international community.
A few months ago The Times Literary Supplement carried an article entitled, “A Glittering Korea.” In it, while comparing the two Koreas, Toby Lichtig writes, “But away from the escapee memoirs, famine histories and book-length speculations about the robustness, politically and gastrointestinally, of the youthful Dear Leader, it is the South that has been gaining headway in the more refined literary arts.” It is true that, besides its breathtaking economic growth, cutting-edge technology, and the widespread popularity of its pop culture termed Hallyu or the Korean Wave, South Korea has emerged on the global stage as a country of delightful literary arts and rich cultural heritage.
Lichtig also points out that Korean literature in the UK is now rising. “Over the past few years there has been a glut of fiction in translation arriving from South Korea, much of it critically acclaimed and some of it even commercially successful,” he continues. “This is partly thanks to the indefatigable Dalkey Archive, whose Library of Korean Literature, produced in collaboration with the Literature Translation Institute of Korea, will—when complete—amount to an impressive twenty-five novels and collections of short stories.”
In her article in The New Yorker, Mythili G. Rao, too, agrees that the twenty-five books from Dalkey Archive offer a good starting point for English-speaking readers to learn about Korean literature. Indeed, Dalkey’s Library of Korean Literature series plays a crucial role in making Korean literature conspicuous and easily accessible in the Anglophone market.
This year, three major journals came out with special editions on Korean literature: Mānoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing in the US, Asia Literary Review in the UK, and Le Magazine Littéraire in France. A special issue on Korean literature from Russia’s Inostrannaya Literatura will be forthcoming in November. Recently, Asia Literary Review wrote, “We are proud to have worked in close cooperation with LTI Korea, which receives prominent profiling in The New Yorker article.”
Since its inception in 2008, LTI Korea’s quarterly journal in English, _list: Books from Korea, has played a vital role in promoting Korean literature overseas. In fact, the quarterly has been widely praised by international publishers, editors, and literary agents. But despite its popularity, the quarterly has one decisive downside: the title. You can neither Google it nor figure out what _list means. Thus, we have decided to change the title to Korean Literature Now. There will be some substantial changes in content as well.
The new issue of KLN features Han Kang and Deborah Smith. Han’s prose in The Vegetarian is poetic and full of heightened sensitivity, while her narrative technique is breathtaking and mesmerizing. At times, the novel is saturated with an atmosphere of sensual desire, while at others it depicts graphic violence in the bleak landscape of modern society. Meanwhile, Deborah Smith’s excellent translation vividly captures the author’s artistic description of the grim environment into which the vegetarian protagonist is thrown among carnivorous predators. Smith beautifully renders Han’s charming prose into impeccable English.
Translation is by no means an easy task. It is a painstaking job that requires dedication, writing skills, and verbal dexterity. Besides, without translation, a writer could not be known outside his or her country. Italo Calvino once wrote: “Without translation, I would be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my most important ally. He introduces me to the world.” If so, we should say, “Translators are trans-nationalists” because they play a key role in bridging two or more nations.
I believe the rebranded and reimagined Korean Literature Now will help international editors and publishers to recognize and understand the intellectual and aesthetic significance of Korean literature more comprehensively. I hope KLN will continue to make a distinguished contribution to this effort.
Kim Seong-Kon, PhD
Publisher, Korean Literature Now
President, LTI Korea
Professor Emeritus, Seoul National University