Ten Stories Dazzle the French: Nocturne d’un chauffeur de taxi by Kim Ae-ran, Paik Gahuim, Ahn Yeong-sil, Jo Kyung Ran, Park Chan-soon, Kim Yeonsu, Choi Jin Young, Han Kang, Yoon Sung-hee, Pyun Hye-Young
- onNovember 16, 2014
- Vol.25 Autumn 2014
- byJean-Noël Juttet
- Nocturne d’un chauffeur de taxi
Tr. Choi Mikyung 2014232pp.
The French translation of Nocturne d’un chauffeur de taxi (Night Over There, A Song Here), an anthology of contemporary Korean short stories, was published in April this year by the Philippe Rey Publishing House. This independent publisher, established in 2002 and specializing in French and foreign literature, boasts a catalogue featuring such established authors as Patrick Chamoiseau, Taslima Nasreen, and Joyce Carol Oates.
The compilation whose title was inspired by a Kim Ae-ran short story is a collection of 10 short stories showcasing a young generation of writers, most of whom are women. Boldly and without affectation, they discuss the most intimate aspects of social life, which are generally overlooked by the media. The 10 stories open windows into people’s daily lives: brief stories or simple portraits, with tragic, pathetic or comical undertones, which, similar to a mirror, reflect the lives of ordinary people, who in many ways actually look very much like us. The common thread linking these authors is a unique ability to highlight the striking aspects (heroic, tragic, or comical) of Koreans’ daily lives.
In her deeply moving account of the love story of an immigrant Chinese woman and a Seoul-based taxi driver, Kim Ae-ran incidentally tackles the topical societal issues of the day, those marking the lives of immigrants in Korea, as well as economic hardships facing common folk, such as waitresses or taxi drivers. In Kim Yeon-su’s “Bonne année à tous!” (Blessed New Year to You All), a man questions his wife’s friendship with an Indian immigrant whose language she doesn’t even understand. In “Semailles” (Sowing), Jo Kyung-ran looks at frictions within a family in the context of rather peaceful relations between Koreans and Japanese. Yoon Sunghee in “La maison en Lego” (The Lego House) paints a gripping picture of the emotional misery suffered by a young girl in a completely chaotic family. The cashier at the supermarket in Choi Jin-young’s “Mon mari” (My Husband) wonders in a tragi-comical conversation whether the man she has been living with is really whom she thinks he is. Paik Gahuim in “Rumeurs” (Rumors), presents a plot depicting the stir caused in a small countryside town, by the simultaneous disappearances of the pharmacist’s daughter and a refugee from North Korea. Another disappearance, discussed in a satirical yet dry-witted manner, is that of the manager of Pyun Hye-young’s “La fabrique de conserve” (Canning Factory), an amusing description of factory work. The Busan film festival serves as setting for the romances of the inconsolable heroine of Park Chan-soon’s “Stoppie à moto” (Stoppie Motorcycle). Ahn Yeong-sil’s “Amour impossible” (Impossible Love) is a masterpiece in malice, an archaic-style miniature portrait, and Han Kang’s “Neuf épisodes” (Nine Episodes) are equally beautiful and fine-spun prose poems, each singing in turn about childhood nostalgia, the dream of eternity, and the journey towards destiny.
The French press, notwithstanding its ever scant enthusiasm for all non- American foreign literature and more so when it comes to short stories, gave the collection a warm reception. The daily Le Monde, in its April 25, 2014 edition, ran a column whose title “Dix perles coréennes” (Ten Korean Pearls) expresses their enthusiasm: “The authors, the columnist concludes, imprint their bitter sweet outlook on the real world at its very core, unveiling its dark and light shades, blending the different tints, not without some jubilation as gradually, out of existential emptiness, they spin a succession of humorous or simply quirky skits. As sensitive onlookers, they capture attention not only by their adept profiling but equally by their outlook which is at once enchanted and enlightened, poetic and poignant.”
And J.M.G. Le Clézio, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and a great connoisseur of Korea, treated Le Figaro to yet another rave review, long enough to fill half a page: “Hurry up, buy, share this little book replete with emotion, rage, laughter, it is a key to taming the challenging realities of daily life, an antidote to the gloominess of our all too quiet days.” (Le Figaro, May 14, 2014)
Lastly, I would like to point out that these short stories were translated as part of the workshops that are hosted every year by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. They were done by joint teams of young Korean and French women who combined their knowledge of French and Korean with their passion for literature to provide the French public with the best literature coming out of Korea today.
by Jean-Noël Juttet