Essays

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...
White Is Not Always Fair
White things — things that are pure and clean — which sterilize the parts of life that have been dirtied. That cure wounds. “Something like white ointment applied to a swelling, like gauze laid over a wound.” (p. 10) This book, by reading and writing such white things, will smooth over and bandage the wounded heart. Before reading a book there are times when we have assumptions about what it is going to offer; if your assumptions about The White Book were like the lines above, you would be left with a very different impression after actually reading the work...
The Globalization of Korean Literature and the Status Quo
How to account for the success of The Vegetarian ? In the immediate aftermath of the Man Booker International Prize, a lot of the reporting speculated on what had led the judges to single out The Vegetarian . But though the MBI has created excitement on an unprecedented scale, The Vegetarian ’s critical and commercial success has been ongoing since its original publication in 2007. Though never (until now) a bestseller, the book received strong critical acclaim when it first appeared, with its middle section taking home the Yi Sang Literary Award, and was already a cult “steady seller” before...
The Body in Contemporary Korean Literature: Overview
1. The Vegetarian is receiving worldwide interest with its peculiar story about a woman dreaming of becoming a tree, however this kind of imagination about the human body is not something that the writer Han Kang has created alone. Rather, it is something made by Korean literature in its entirety. The Vegetarian is the outcome of a unique take on a theme repeated throughout the long history of Korean literature. For a long time Korean literature has both recreated the violence of the body within the regulation of the symbolic order and dreamed of a different kind of body, one...
Some Morning-After Translation Thoughts by Daniel Hahn
This is not the column I was intending to write. Over the last few days I’ve jotted down some notes for this piece and it was going to be all about promoting literature in translation here in the UK (the challenges and benefits), about increasing market share, perhaps mentioning some recent particular successes, and so on. I was going to comment on the impressive international performance of Korean literature in the past couple of years and speculate on some of the causes, maybe consider some of the lessons. But it’s seven in the morning, and I was up most of...
Korean Literature Essay Contest: What It Means To Be Cold
LTI Korea supports the Korean Literature Essay Contest that aims to gain a worldwide readership so that Korean literature may take its place among the literatures of the world. We’d like to introduce the grand prize essay in the young adult division. The designated title was Our Twisted Hero by Yi Mun-yol. So asks Shukhov one day during his 10 year imprisonment in a Siberian gulag in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich . Placed in a machine designed with precision to destroy the body and spirit, Shukhov’s fellow prisoners strip away their humanity in...
Introducing Korean Literature Through the Seoul Book and Culture Club
The 24th of January 2015 is a date I shall never forget. On this date the iconic Korean poet Ko Un and his celebrated translator Brother Anthony visited the book club I run in central Seoul. Famous writers had visited the book club before, but I was not prepared for the rapturous response which accompanied Ko Un’s appearance that day. As it got closer to 4:00 p.m. people were still pouring through the doors. By the time Ko Un took to the stage all 200 seats were filled. There were even people sitting on the floor and yet more lining...
A Profound Union of Ethics and Aesthetics
In truth, presenting a timeline of Hwang Sokyong’s life would be a sufficient introduction to his literature. Although no one can choose the time period they are born, few live in their given time with such depth. Hwang’s life and literature manifest what pushes forth from the deepest and most painful places in recent Korean history. The latter is explosive and entangled between the division of the peninsula and the compressions of modernity. The violent flow of this history might have altered course due to the great resistance against oppressive regimes and the hardships that accompanied them, but literature has...

Pages