I stayed for a week at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. I was there to attend the British Centre for Literary Translation Summer School. This year, workshops were held for Korean, German, Russian, Swedish, and multilingual prose and multilingual poetry. I took part in the Korean to English workshop. All throughout, my role was like a visitor or an observer—at times happy, often surprised, sometimes lonely, and for the most part cautiously watching the translators at work. Eleven translators attended the Korean workshop, which usually consisted of two sessions daily of an hour and a half each. After the morning session ended, translators and workshop leaders from all languages would gather in the lobby and have sandwiches. Once the afternoon session was over, evenings as bright as a white night greeted us. I spent most of the time in my room at the Broad View Lodge, gazing at the sky from the square-shaped window, waiting for the sun to set.
Summers in Norwich are longer than summers in Korea, so the days would barely start to grow dark around ten. The campus had a general store where you could buy beer or beverages but it closed early in the evening. If you were lost in your thoughts, you ended up missing the chance to stock up on provisions for the night. In fact, I spent four days without any provisions, and with nothing to buy and nowhere to go, I ended up not spending much of the British pound I had with me. Jonathan Morley, whom I met at the Writer’s Centre Norwich on the last day, asked how I found my stay at the university. I told him I’d gone on a stroll with the translators from the Korean group the previous night and found it very memorable. He considered what I’d said and then asked what about it was so memorable. Specifically. I thought about it for a while and then answered: The rabbits. The university campus had lots of rabbits. Most mornings, I’d go jogging over a gentle hill that led to a river, and when I got back to Korea, I noticed bits of rabbit poop stuck to the soles of my shoes.
I had a clear motivation for writing the short story the translators worked on during the Summer School. I wrote it in the summer of 2014 and published it in fall the same year. Those days, I could feel something inside me steadily dying. The narrator of the story shuts themselves up in a room after their lover’s death, but I believed they’d come out one day, and when they did, they’d have some sort of a smile or laugh on their face. A cold smile, a guffaw, a grin, a reproachful smile, an affirming smile, a smile twisted in pain, a sneer, a warm smile . . . no matter what sort of smile it was, in Korean I could use the word un-neuna as a blanket term to cover them all, and so I titled the story as “un-neun nam-ja” (nam-ja means man in Korean).
Earlier in spring this year, I had to talk about the story in English at a certain occasion. I used the word “laugh” when I spoke about the title. Someone remarked that the English word “laugh” could also mean boisterous laughter and asked me if that was what I was referring to in the title. I was startled and said no. What I had in mind was more of an eerie sort of laugh. That day, I learned that English has a rich range of vocabulary to express laughter. According to the conversation I had that day, my story couldn’t be titled “The Laughing Man” in English. So when I heard that the story had been picked for the workshop I was curious. How would the translators translate the title? Which word would they use?
The first sentence of the story goes like this:
For a long time I’ve been thinking about that day.