The 14th LTI Korea Translation Award: A Latecomer Translator

  • onJanuary 4, 2017
  • Vol.34 Winter 2016
  • byKim Soon Hee

First of all, I would like to say how grateful I am for the unexpected joy of receiving an email, on an afternoon where both the country and I were having a gloomy day, from the President of LTI Korea congratulating me on winning a translation award. The chance to translate a Korean literary work was an especially cherished one for me, as I have loved books all my life. But upon reflection, it is not just Kim Soon Hee, translator, who is being given this award, but also the author Lee Seung-U who entrusted me with his work, as well as my wonderful colleagues and dedicated students. Special thanks to Professor Choi Mi-Kyung, my trusted friend and colleague at Ewha Womans University’s Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation, who first introduced me to LTI Korea. I was able to commute from Ilsan to Samseongdong with a light heart because of the students there who work so hard to closely read and translate Korean literature, and I am also aware of and grateful for the tireless effort of the staff at LTI Korea. I was also very pleased for the chance to meet so many different authors and come into contact with their creative worldviews.


While I may be the teacher in the classroom, it is perhaps more accurate to say that I am also a learner alongside the students. As Professor Jean-Noël Juttet said two years ago at a forum presentation, a literary translator is not a “professional” but rather a constant student of philosophy, history, and literature, someone who is tasked with working within a strict literary sensibility of making the target-language reader feel what the departure-language reader is feeling. Our learning, therefore, is never complete. Translating Lee Seung-U, whose works feature many intertextual elements, made me go back to reading books by Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Rilke, and Gide. It makes my heart skip a beat when I think of Lee Seung-U’s work delivering, through translation, a universal literary message to Japanese readers.


Translating Korean literature into Japanese is also a process of understanding a literature that is of my native land but not in my native tongue, which in turns reflects a process of exploring my own national identity. All of these joys from publishing and teaching translated Korean literature were possible thanks to LTI Korea’s extraordinary support.


I’ve more time behind me than before me (I don’t think I’m up for setting a world record by living another seventy years), but as I undertook this “latecomer translation,” as Edward Saïd and Kenzaburo Oe put it, I could only feel awe as I faced the study of universal truth and the depth of the world of literature. And of all the things I could’ve done in this world, it was a great privilege and pleasure to be able to do this work that tries to bring together not only Koreans and the Japanese, but humanity itself. I am incredibly grateful for this undeserved honor.


I would like to thank the author Lee Seung-U, the judges, the LTI Korea President and staff, and especially Yi Sonen in the Japanese division. I would also like to express my gratitude to Professor Choi Mi-Kyung and my colleagues, the LTI Korea Translation Academy students, and to my loving family.



by Kim Soon Hee