My fateful Korean adventure began in 2010, and I never would’ve dreamed back then that someday, I would be receiving a translation award.
I would not be here today if I hadn’t received a scholarship for foreign students given by the Korean government, which gave me the opportunity to live and study in Korea for the past three years. During this time, I fell in love with Korea’s culture, and naturally enough, with its literature. What has most attracted me to Korean literature has been the fact that it carries within it the very narrative and thoughts of the Korean people. It’s my belief that when Korean literature is at its most Korean, it’s at its most beautiful. This is the presumption most Korean literary translators work from, and it is also the core ideal behind the success of Korean literature overseas. But how do we go about realizing this ideal?
We literary translators must become great actors. We have to “act” what is written in another language in our native tongue, and to do this properly we must first and foremost listen closely to the voice of the source text and hear the voice we find there in our own translations.
In our work, we are faced with countless tasks such as these. What makes our job so difficult is that from an objective standpoint, Korean is, compared to European languages, much more complex and difficult. The Korean language is also rich with synonyms. If two words are translated as the same word in their dictionary entries, how are we to tell the difference between them? What are their subtle differences? What are their semantic or stylistic differences? Any single word that represents a feeling is like an ocean to a translator. To say nothing of the honorifics and polite forms, and of the most difficult aspect of all: stylistic allusions to other literary texts. How do I capture and express all of that in Polish?
Perhaps if we could see the foreign culture in question from within our own pasts, it would be easier to understand. I believe that in aiding this process, we as translators must try to strike the perfect balance between being faithful to the source text while providing our own interpretation.
And to see one’s translation being distinguished from others is surely one of the greatest rewards a translator can receive. That is how I feel about this moment. I am sincerely thankful to LTI Korea, the judges, and to the many people who have given me the opportunity to pursue my interests. I hope this award is the beginning of an exciting journey into inspiring interest in Korean literature among Polish readers and in seeing this interest spread throughout Europe and the world.
by Katarzyna Różańska