Essays

A Conversation with North Korean Writers in Exile
Home, Where Is Home? Literature on North Korean defection can be divided into two categories. The first kind is authored by professional South Korean writers exploring North Korean defection as a phenomenon linked to reunification and changes in international relations. The second kind is by actual North Korean defectors writing from experience about their escape and tortuous journey that finally brought them to South Korea. This conversation was conducted with novelist Chang Hae Seong, literary critic Hyun Inae, and novelist Lim Il, members of the North Korean Writers in Exile PEN Center who write to raise awareness on North Korean...
Part 3. North Korean Defector Poets
Poetic Expression in North Korean Defector Culture Significance of Defector Poets Mass migration prompted by the great famine of the 1990s has transformed the status of North Korean defectors in South Korean society from that of a strategic tool in the ideological wars to a social minority in need of assimilation. The unofficial count of North Koreans crossing the border ranges from 100,000 to 300,000, with the number entering South Korea now well over 10,000. In these numbers, defectors have not only lost their ideological influence as living proof of the superiority of the Southern regime, but are now reduced...
"Rice Urn" by Yi Ka-yeon
Rice Urn by Lee Ka-Yeon translated by Jack Jung Yeon-hee’s family next door all starved to death. Their names were buried in rice urns. On earth, they starved to death. It worried us they may starve again. We buried them in rice urns. Countless North Koreans died in the “Arduous March” of the mid-1990s, truly a death march if there ever was one. It is said that over three million people starved to death. I saw people dying every day in my hometown, so on a national scale it cannot be said that this number has been exaggerated. My poetry...
"One–eyed Person Passes the Test" by Do Myeong-hak
One–eyed Person Passes the Test by Do Myeong-hak Though I’m one-eyed and unable to go to the army my lot is better. Classmates who used to mock me for being one-eyed are being tortured in the army. I do business, have love affairs, enjoy my life as it is. Why has the party secretary called me suddenly? They say a one-eyed guy like me can go to the army. Hey, these are strange times. Though I have no left eye, I can shoot all right. If I had the right eye, I’d just pass the test! The eyeball is like...
Phone Call with My Daughter by Lee Ji-myeong
I was born in North Korea and lived there for 52 years. It has now been 10 years since I left, long enough, one might assume, to miss and pine for my native land. But I feel nothing to this effect at all. If there’s anything that I do feel, it is hate, anger, and despair. I once had a family there, although we were poor, and 52 years’ worth of bittersweet memories. What happened, then? Perhaps it is because now I feel that I have no identity, no soul. Maybe my identity will return when my broken country is...
"Freedom" by Kim Seong-min
Freedom by Kim Seong-min Mine, essentially, yet at the same time something we never had from birth. Not an object, yet something our parents took away. Not only the sorrow of the hungry, not the muffled sigh of those who wish for much. Without it even alive we die, freedom, life! Living with us, though we die, freedom! originally published in North Korean Writers in Exile PEN Literature (2014 1st Issue p. 91) I used to have a certain idea of freedom. When I was living in the North, I thought that freedom meant being loyal to the Party and...
Dreaming to Be Free from the Periphery: About Yi Mun-yol’s Novels
Yi Mun-yol is an “author of the periphery” who has been attracting more international acclaim with the publication of his short story in translation, “An Anonymous Island” in The New Yorker . The reason why Yi is an “author of the periphery” is that in his novel, The In-between Periphery , he has clearly contextualized the history of Korea in the post-liberation period within the geopolitical boundary of the two empires, namely the U.S. and the Soviet Union, during the Cold War. Yi Mun-yol can also be considered a writer of freedom; in a totalitarian society in which the government...
So Far Yet So Close: Korea and Back Again
Distance is deception—truth is hidden and revealed in its illusion. Before I visited Korea for the first time in June 2013, all I knew about the country was a bit of politics, a couple of pop songs, and some films by Park Chan-wook. I also remember my former roommate explaining that manhwa is different from manga. That was it. Almost nothing. The problem is that in France I am considered something of a Korean literature expert. Like the innocent imposter that I am, allow me to carefully denounce and excuse myself. All I did was admire Hwang Sok-yong’s novels and...
A New Opportunity for Korean Literature in Poland
First I would like to thank LTI Korea for supporting translators and publishers from around the world. Without LTI Korea many books would never see the light of day. Korean literature is still not very popular in many countries. While several works have been published into English and other popular languages (including Japanese and Chinese), some of Korean literature’s greatest works have remained hidden from readers worldwide. I would like to share my ideas and strategies for promoting Korean literature and to pass down some of the experiences I’ve had during my last five years of being both a translator...
Reflections on the 12th LTI Korea International Workshop
As a founder of a literary agency specializing in literature in translation, attending the 12th International Workshop for Translation and Publication of Korean Literature organized by LTI Korea was both fascinating and instructive. The range of talks at the workshop were interesting, informative, and varied; it was good to hear how publishers worldwide seek to publish and promote Korean literature. The publishers ranged from France (Keulmadang/Universite Aix-Marseille), the U.S. (White Pine Press), Poland (Kwiaty Orientu), to the Czech Republic (Argo Publishing). The presentations by Marzena Stefanska from Kwiaty Orientu and Richard Klicnik from Argo whose talks I had the enjoyable...

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