Essays

Blooming Like a Pheasant’s Eye Flower
In a recent interview with Maeil Business News Korea , the poet Shin Dalja said, “Whenever I see a pheasant’s eye flower, it reminds me of my life — unattractive and small. But people take notice of it because it blooms, surrounded by ice, earlier than any other flower in the spring. That’s all that it’s known for. Musing on its tenacity, I just can’t think other way: I myself am an unattractive and small pheasant’s eye. . .” As a matter of fact, the pheasant’s eye flower is neither showy nor glamorous. And it may indeed be unattractive in...
Korean Conceptions of The Future
In this section, we look at the different ways Korean writers have been imagining the future of humanity. 1. We will forever remember March 2016’s “Battle of the Century” between Google’s AlphaGo and grandmaster Lee Sedol as they fought it out for supremacy over the game of Go. It was a competition between human and machine, but at the same time also a foretelling of our future. As the competition began, most people believed in the superiority of the human intellect, or at least wanted to believe in it. But once met with a sobering defeat of 4:1, we were...
What Do We Do Now?: Literary Translation in a Post-Trump World by Susan Harris
Wednesday, November 9, was the third and final day of the translation workshop I was running at the Singapore Writers Festival. It was also election day in the US: Singapore is thirteen hours ahead of New York, so the polls were beginning to close as we started that morning. When the early returns leaned heavily toward Donald Trump I was only somewhat alarmed; but as the day continued, my leisurely peeks at the New York Times on my phone turned frantic. Finally I commandeered the classroom computer. I saw the word STUNNING. The students — Chinese, Indonesian, and Malay, the...
About the Writer: Lee Ho-Cheol
Editor’s Note Lee Ho-cheol, one of Korea’s most renowned writers, passed away at the age of eighty-five on September 18, 2016. Experiencing historical upheavals, division, war, displacement, and the birth pangs of democracy in South Korea, Lee spent a lifetime studying the issues of war and division. To commemorate Lee’s journey to overcome division and achieve the unification of the Korean peninsula, the Featured Writer section includes an interview conducted in 2013, as well as write-ups from both Korean and foreign critics about his works. Born on March 15, 1932 in Wonsan, South Hamgyeong Province, now part of North Korea,...
The Long Journey of a Writer Who Crossed the Borderline by Kang Jin Ho
Dearest Seonsaengnim , the news of your passing came so unexpectedly. It seems like only yesterday when you would greet us with your warm welcoming smile — how could you have parted from us so soon? Was it because you missed your hometown so much that you left your body behind and departed with just your soul? You were to us the icon of division and division literature. After leaving your home and family in the North and setting off southwards, as a witness who has endured all the wounds and ordeals brought by division, your path in life followed...
Lee Ho-cheol and a Divided Nation by Alexander Y. Livergant
Lee Ho-cheol is one of the authors who helps readers, non-Koreans in particular, understand what is currently taking place in the two Koreas, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea where he lived until he passed away. Facts are said to be “an obstinate thing,” and the sad facts of the split of the Korean people that has lasted more than half a century may be best explained by those who know, not by hearsay, what has been happening in the country since the end of the Second World War and the liberation of Korea from...
Apocalyptic Literature and the Imagination of Disaster by Yoo Sungho
While apocalyptic literature has inspired the imaginations of writers since antiquity, there has perhaps never been a time more urgent than now to examine humanity’s ethical and moral response when faced with disaster. Korean writers too are exploring the prospect of hope and resistance when the world seems to be falling apart. In recent years as natural and social disasters have become more frequent and more severe, people are increasingly faced with moments where they must deal with and overcome catastrophe. The word “disaster” usually refers to unfortunate accidents or tragic incidents caused by the forces of nature. Here we...
Introducing Modern Japanese Classics to the (English Speaking) World by Jay Rubin
One of the worst ideas I ever had was to compile a book of Haruki Murakami short stories in English translation interspersed with my commentaries on each piece. This was supposedly going to “help introduce” Murakami to an Englishreading audience. Not only did it become instantly clear that neither Murakami nor his publishers had any interest in letting me fill a book of mine with his stories, but just as obvious was the fact that Murakami’s works didn’t need any “help” being introduced to a wider audience beyond being translated into English; they could stand very well on their own...
Connecting the World Through Words by Krys Lee
When I was a child growing up in the blazing California sun, books for me were a dream, a window into a world that seemed inaccessible to a girl whose family couldn’t afford a basic health insurance plan, much less purchase a plane ticket to foreign lands. But the local library was free, stocked generously with books and cozy reading corners, so I didn’t grow up feeling deprived because the entire world seemed available to me. Charlotte Brontë’s English moors led me to Thomas Hardy’s English countryside. Hardy’s religious preoccupations to Tolstoy’s St. Petersburg. I could travel to Thomas Mann’s...
Walking Towards the Vanishing Point Cradling a Love of Life
In the courtyard of an old, humble hanok in northern Seoul that has been lovingly restored, folding chairs are set out in tight rows with loud construction noises coming from the building site next door, where a beautiful building like this one has already been demolished. At the designated time the tiny courtyard fills with people; it’s standing-room only with the entranceway full too. In front of the small but tightly packed crowd sits Han Kang, a unique stillness in the surrounding bustle and noise. When she takes the microphone to begin talking about her artworks on display in this...

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