[2018 LTI Korea Translation Awards] Korea through Éditions Picquier

  • onDecember 12, 2018
  • byPhilippe Picquier

It gives me great pride to ask my daughter, Juliette, to visit South Korea on my behalf to receive the 2018 LTI Korea Distinguished Service Award. We are both overjoyed by South Korea’s recognition of a publishing house with more than thirty years of history.

We launched this catalogue of Korean literature over twelve years ago, and it has grown over the years, helped by trips to South Korea and meetings with writers. Today, I am proud to see that this catalogue brings together writers that we have helped make known in France, such as Kim Young-Ha, Hwang Sok-yong, Kim Ae-ran, Shin Kyong-sook and Gong Ji-young, whose books are very dear to me on a personal level.

I am very touched by this recognition today because, in a sense, it is a recognition of all our efforts. It has taken time and perseverance, as well as the trust of the writers, to add this Korean collection to the many Japanese and Chinese writers in our catalog. A new collection requires us first and foremost to remain faithful to our writers—to have what we call in France an “author policy.” Publishing houses must keep one eye on the future. That is why we have decided to publish a new book by Kim Young-ha, whose work we admire. It is why, when Gong Ji-yong visited France last spring, she helped us select the next of her novels to be translated into French, and it is why we have begun work on the translation of Hwang Sok-yong’s Prisoner.

Bringing these authors together at one publishing house takes time and a great deal of conviction, and I often find myself thinking that this has formed a kind of bond between them. Some of them have been commercially successful, others have excited the critics, some are not yet widely known, while others are my personal favorites, but their books, published as part of this catalog, generate a kind of unspoken complicity.

This Korean literature stops seeming so foreign to us once we realise that this “exotic” backdrop is eclipsed by what is clearly a distinctive voice. And this voice is brought even closer to us when the text produced by a talented translator allows it to equal the original. French readers are in no doubt about this. These novels may sometimes allow us glimpses of Korean history, but they also speak about a great deal more than that. They show us that fiction can sometimes be more convincing than reality. They speak to us about the difficulty of being in the world, and about the time of writing, which is also that of memory. Their writers create stories of loyalty and betrayal, where the need to contemplate one’s life and the society one lives in can itself become a question of life and death.

They are novels, then, which are no longer really anchored to a particular country, which have their own life, their own genius—that of each of their writers—and which resonate with the concerns of readers far beyond their country of origin. And if anyone asks me what my criteria for publishing books are, I tell them only one: the quality of an illusion that enriches my existence and that of readers, giving us some compensation for our tragic condition. The beauty of an illusion, in a text that elevates our self-awareness.

This is what this “Korean” collection is all about, under the clear-sighted directorship of Lim Yeong-hee, who has resolved to take an approach that is both demanding and adventurous in the years to come. As for me, my only concern is to keep up this momentum, to continue being the “first reader” in French of writers who I am slowly learning to discover thanks to the work of talented translators, the faith that Korean editors have placed in us, and the perspicacity of a collection director who is helping me navigate this profusion of different personalities and styles, according to my own sensibility, with a little bit of daring and a great deal of curiosity.


by Philippe Picquier