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Modern Korean fiction, now in English from Korea.net
 ASIA    | 2012·08·13 17:05 | HIT : 9,036 | VOTE : 2,007 |
It will likely come as no surprise that the events and elements commonly identified as decisive features of modern Korean history have also shaped the narrative landscapes of the country's best-known contemporary novels. Partition, industrialization, and the rapidly changing social norms and values of the past half-century form the backdrop against which have emerged some of the most unique voices in modern Korean fiction.

Last month, Asia Publishers released Bi-lingual Edition: Modern Korean Literature, a series of bilingual editions of 15 representative Korean short stories written over the last 50 years. Each novella includes the complete original Korean text alongside the English translation, and the series is grouped by theme.

A new fifteen-volume series of Korean short stories was released in July featuring works by some of Korea's representative modern fiction authors. As bilingual editions, the volumes feature both the original Korean and translated English texts (photos courtesy of Asia Publishers).

Partition and Division

The theme of partition and division following the Korean War features prominently in the first five of the selected stories: "The Wounded" by Yi Cheong-jun, "Soul of Darkness" by Kim Won-il, "Sun-i Samch'on" by Hyun Ki-yong, "Mother's Stake 1" by Pak Wansŏ, and "The Land of the Banished" by Jo Jung-rae.

An excerpt from "The Last of Hanak'o" by Ch'oe Yun

Yi's "The Wounded", one of the author's earlier stories, conveys the disillusionment of youths in postwar Korea as lived out by two brothers, the older who carries vivid, searing memories of the war and the younger who clings to the outer trappings of a pain no less real for being mostly projected. The author, himself regarded as a key writer of the "April 19 Generation", which refers to those involved in the short-lived student movement that rallied for democracy in April 1960, is also famous for his later novella Seopyeonje. The story of traveling pansori singers was later made into a feature film that brought new attention to the traditional genre.

"Mother's Stake 1", the first of a three-part volume, looks at the complex, intertwining history of politics, culture, and family in Korea through the eyes of a mother of five who struggles to bear the pain of losing her older brother to the war and losing her country to partition. Author Pak became one of Korea's most popular writers after publishing her first work at the age of 40. Though it is clear that both her writings and her personal life speak of the tragedy of Korea's experiences with colonization and war, she has been described by translator Stephen Epstein as one who stood in the middle of tragedy without being overcome by it.


The effects of industrialization on Korean society are explored in the next five stories: "Record of a Journey to Mujin" by Kim Seung-ok, "The Road to Sampo" by Hwang Sok-yong, "The Man Who was Left as Nine Pairs of Shoes" by Yun Heung-gil, "Our Friend's Homecoming" by Shin Sang-ung, and "The Poet of Wonmi-dong" by Yang Kwi-ja.

A new fifteen-volume series of Korean short stories was released in July featuring works by some of Korea's representative modern fiction authors. As bilingual editions, the volumes feature both the original Korean and translated English texts (photos courtesy of Asia Publishers).

"The Road to Sampo" portrays the lives of laborers who wander through the ever-changing landscape of Korea mid-industrialization, longing for the physical and spiritual "homes" that they have left behind. Works by Hwang, who was as well-known for his political activism as his depictions of the instabilities and contradictions that marked Korea's transition period, have been translated into Japanese, Chinese, German, French, and Swedish. Last June, the author visited Sweden after his novel The Old Garden was selected as the 2011 book of the year by various local newspapers.

Women in Korean Society

The final five volumes in the series look at the shifting attitudes and roles assumed by and for women in Korean society during the past decades of transformation. Diverse experiences are presented by the female authors in the following works: "Chinatown" by Oh Jung-hee, "The Place Where the Harmonium Was" by Shin Kyung-sook, "The Last of Hanak'o" by Ch'oe Yun, "Human Decency" by Gong Jiyong, and "Poor Man's Wife" by Eun Hee-kyung.

An excerpt from "Chinatown" by Oh Jung-hee

Oh's "Chinatown" follows the life of a nine-year-old girl who flees with her family to the outskirts of the port city of Incheon after the outbreak of war.

In a former Chinese settlement bordered by military camp towns and the general debris of post-war decline, the young girl confronts in her own ways the realities of death and the inevitable awareness that comes with age.

Ch'oe's "The Last of Hanak'o" explores the dynamics of social marginalization and the attitudes that enable it through the story of a female college student who struggles to be accepted and understood by the mostly male members of a social group. The two authors met with readers and critics to discuss their works and the newly published series at a book concert on July 25.

"The Place Where the Harmonium Stood" is the first of Shin Kyung-sook's short stories to be published in English. As with many of the authors featured in the new series, Shin has become an internationally recognized name. Last March, she became the first Korean and the only woman to win the Man Asian Literary Prize for Please Look After Mom, which has been distributed in 19 countries to date.

Open doors to Korea's literary world

From planning to publication, the production of the Asia Publishers series took a total of five years to complete and has been selected for use in 2013 as part of the curriculum for East Asian Studies at Harvard University and Colombia University as well as for the Asia Studies Department at the University of British Colombia in Canada.

"Asia Publisher's Korean-English Bi-lingual Edition: Modern Korean Literature, makes a major contribution to world literature, offering a thematically organized, diverse collection of the most important, cutting-edge Korean writers working over the last 50 years", said Theodore Hughes, Korea Foundation Associate Professor of Korean Studies in the Humanities at the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University.

The books will also be made available through Amazon.com and other international booksellers by next year.

"Korean literature's reach, the chance for particular writers and their works to be known and enjoyed, will be wonderfully extended for an international readership", said David McCann, Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Literature at Harvard University. "[And] to have the texts in bilingual editions means also that for advanced Korean language classes as well as courses on Korean literature, a deep new well-spring of fresh materials has been opened".

More information on Korean authors and Korean literature in translation can be found at the website of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea.

By Kwon Jungyun
Korea.net Staff Writer
Read more at http://www.hancinema.net/modern-korean-fiction-now-in-english--45958.html#998qYIrzTw0fvjsW.99
  Korean lit published in bilingual edition from The Korea Herald  ASIA 12·08·13 8353
  Modern Korean literature published in English from the Hankyoreh  ASIA 12·08·13 7956
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