Making the Impossible Possible by Kim Kyung-uk

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.

     There was once a big to-do surrounding the Korean title of a famous hardboiled American novel’s Hollywood adaptation. The original English title was The Postman Always Rings Twice, and the subject “postman” should have been translated into Korean as “jipbaewon.” But, due to fierce opposition by Korean postal workers, the problematic word ended up being the English written in Korean pronunciation as “poseuteumaen.” Without translating the subject, the title was an incomplete and strange translation.

     The reasoning behind the switch to Konglish was that because the plot was about a love affair, it might have planted negative thoughts about postmen into audience’s minds, but I found two points on which to doubt this claim. First, the problematic movie’s plot had absolutely nothing to do with postmen. As someone who writes novels, I’ve learned that you must select your titles well, but I think that when ...

Kim Kyung-uk debuted in 1993 with the novella Outsider published in the quarterly review Writer’s World. His short story collections are Is Leslie Cheung Really Dead? (2005), Risky Reading (2008), God Has No Grandchildren (2011), and Young Hearts Never Grow (2014). His novels are Like a Fairytale (2010) and What Is Baseball? (2013). He won both the Hyundae Literary Award and the Dong-in Literary Award.