While athletes from all around the globe were bonding through sports on the ice rinks of Gangneung City, site of the 2018 Winter Olympics’ ice events, journalists from the international community were connecting with literature in a cozy corner of its Media Village.
The impetus for the sportswriters’ exploration of literature during all the excitement of the Pyeongchang Olympics was a special exhibition hosted by LTI Korea. Titled “Literature without Boundaries,” the exhibition was located right in front of the dining halls, allowing journalists and guests to easily access it. The exhibition showcased Korean books translated into English, German, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese, and others, so that guests from any country could find something to read. Journalists were free to take or borrow books.
Such an event is unprecedented, as Philipe Cantin, a journalist from La Presse, noted: “This is my seventh Olympics coverage and I've never before seen such an interesting cultural initiative for journalists.” Journalists seem to enjoy this unusual combination of sports and literature, which served as a great introduction to Korean literature and culture.
“I think it’s a very good way of getting to know Korean literature,” said Petrus Dejong from AP. “I read a novel by Han Kang for the first time, and now I’ve picked up her second novel to read on my flight back home.” He also read The Story of Hong Gil-dong, a Korean classic, which he said was a “real page-turner,” although he is usually less inclined to read old novels. Toni Rufflo from WPXI-TV commented, “I am so glad to have had this opportunity. I would not have been able to get to a library in South Korea otherwise.”
Donna Spencer from the Canadian Press expressed her delight after reading Our Happy Time by Gong Ji-Young, which was her first Korean novel. “I really liked it. It was a redemption story centered on a sad event but had an uplifting ending that suggested hope for the future.” Indeed, many guests of the exhibition found Korean fiction and poetry incredibly relatable.
Furthermore, the exhibition allowed sportswriters to spend their time fruitfully until the next event. “Sometimes I’ve got nothing to do after breakfast, so I think it’s a great idea to have a library in such a convenient location,” said Christoph Winterbach from Spiegel.
The success of the exhibition proved that there are indeed no real boundaries among great literature. In fact, great books may be the best reflection of and an approachable introduction to a culture. To quote La Presse’s Cantin, “Literature opens our horizons and these books are, for me, a window into the Korean reality. Bravo!”
by Kim Kyu Eun