A few years ago I took part in an international creative writing program held at an American university. A variety of events were planned, including public readings, and there was even an opportunity to meet students who were studying world literature. As I wrapped up my short presentation on writing novels, one student asked me what I thought were the differences between American and Korean novels. I took a moment to contemplate my answer to this unexpected question and replied, “American novels are written in English and Korean novels in Korean.” The laughter that erupted from the students surprised me. It seems they thought I was joking.
I am fortunate enough to have had a short story collection translated that will shortly be published in the US. The title of the collection is God Has No Grandchildren. However, I was told that the current editor wanted to change the title. The editor’s reasoning was that readers might have the misconception that these were “God Stories.” This was a wholly unanticipated response since it is a collection of short stories and not religious fiction. In spite of this, I readily agreed with the editor’s suggestion. I’m not trying to say that I am a particularly magnanimous person, nor that as an author I am far from being stubborn. Truthfully, I had no grounds for argument because what Americans think of when they hear the word “God” and what Koreans think are completely different. Just like how in one of the short stories in that collection, the cheer for the Korean National Soccer team, “Be the Reds!” could be misread by an English speaking reader to be the Manchester United cheer, “Come on, the Reds!” The most important thing was to avoid the unfortunate possibility of the book being placed in the Religious Fiction corner in American bookstores.