- The Amusing Life
Tr. Kim Se-un 2016170pp.
One of the hardest tasks for a translator is conveying information that goes without saying to a reader of the source text, but without which the reader of the translated version would be left baffled. What to do when the readership of a translation might not share the assumed social, political, and cultural knowledge that makes satire funny? This is one of the daunting challenges facing Kim Se-un, the translator of Song Sokze’s collection of short-short stories, The Amusing Life.
The Amusing Life is made up of more than forty short-short stories. Each story takes a moment from life and examines it under a comic lens. Song exaggerates the ridiculous and pokes fun at characteristics a reader will easily recognize, either because the situation transcends national and regional boundaries or because the way a character reacts to the pains and frustrations of navigating a complex social structure will be familiar to a non-Korean reader even if the context itself is not.
Some of these situations are global in familiarity, such as the micro story “Surveillance.” The walls of a public toilet are covered with “everything from simple philosophical musings to jokes, but the majority consisted of descriptions of sexual experiences, curses condemning the immorality of the scribbling, objections to those curses, and criticism regarding those objections.” Biggest of all, naturally, is the manager’s sign forbidding graffiti.