A New Horizon for the Korean Coming-of-Age Novel: Anchovy by Kim Joo-Young

  • onNovember 9, 2014
  • Vol.10 Winter 2010
  • byQuan Helv
鳀鱼 (Anchovy)
Tr. Quan Helv

I teach at a university in China, with a degree in Korean Literature. It follows, naturally, that I should take part in promoting Korean literature in China. I am truly grateful for the opportunity I have been given to do so through the translation grant program of the Korean Literature Translation Institute.

While studying literature in Korea, I encountered many authors indirectly through their work. As I was merely a student at the time, direct encounters with authors in most cases seemed only a remote possibility. Upon returning to China, I came across a chance to participate in a Chinese-Korean writers’ conference hosted by Paradise Culture Foundation, as a translator and simultaneous interpreter. Thus, I was fortunate enough to meet Korean writers I had admired as a student, and to meet Director Kim Joo-Young of Paradise Culture Foundation, himself a novelist, who gives continued support to the Chinese-Korean writers’ conference. At the suggestion of Nam Yeongjeon, the former director of Changbaishan—a major Korean literary journal in China—the Chinese translation of Anchovy, a novel by Kim Joo-Young, was set in motion, with myself as the translator.

Anchovy is hailed as one of the best coming-of-age novels of the day in Korea. The work is similar to A Skate Fish, a novel by the same author that was translated into Chinese before Anchovy, in that in both novels, a young narrator serves as a medium through which the author observes, feels, thinks, and speaks (from An In-Depth Reading of Kim Joo-Young).” The boy narrator of Anchovy waits for “Mother,” who has left home, just as the boy narrator of A Skate Fish waits for “Father.” The father in Anchovy talks big but with no substance, and suspects his wife and her half-brother of having an affair, despite his own extramarital affair, and sees his wife’s half-brother as a thorn in his side. It is such pettiness and malice that drives the boy’s mother away from home. The boy, with a father in name only, and with a mother who has left home, does what he can to fill up the empty space in his life. He comes to believe that the day his father recovers his dignity will be the day his mother comes home again. Through his own wisdom and means, even deceit, he brings his father and uncle to reconciliation, and calls them to participate in a boar hunt, intending to help his father regain his dignity. By fighting the boar that the father shot and missed, the boy’s uncle does all he can to help the boy’s father recover his honor as a hunter, but is unable to show up at the celebration held for them by the townspeople. The novel ends with the boy swimming freely with a school of fish that appear unexpectedly in the receeding basin where his uncle used to work, as though he now owns the basin. Anchovies, though “insignificant fish,” are “undeniable vertebrates.” The boy, too, though still a boy, has grown into the leader of a world, his uncle’s world, the receding basin (the world of the ego).

The advancement of Korean literature into China is part of the many exchanges between the two countries in various fields. The translation and publication of Anchovy in Chinese is a major example of such exchanges. In China, Korean pop culture, consisting mostly of Korean dramas, has gained great popularity as a part of this cultural exchange. Now is the time to go beyond the sharing of pop culture and share literature, which in fact is the fundamental source of pop culture. China seeks an understanding of the finer culture of Korea that surpasses its pop culture. With the Korean Literature Translation Institution leading the way, improvements are underway. Based on such movements, it is my hope that Korean literature will be introduced in China at a greater scale and in a more systematic way, in the near future. The time has come to go beyond a sporadic and fragmentary introduction of Korean literature and establish a freer exchange of literature between the two countries.

The smooth process of translating Anchovy has been made possible thanks to the full support of Kim Joo-Young, the author, and President Kim Joo-youn of the Korea Literature Translation Institute, as well as Jilin University Press. The author readily gave his permission for the translation, and KLTI, after an evaluation process, provided the necessary support for translation and publication of the novel. Jilin University Press, with a deep interest in the translation of Korean literature into Chinese, has given full cooperation for the publication of the work, with the active support of Jang Hyeongil, the vice president, promising a fuller and more systematic support for the translation and publication of Korean literature in China in the future. With such enthusiasm from people in the Chinese and Korean literary and publication circles, I believe that auspicious days are ahead for the advancement of Korean literature into Chinese speaking countries. 



* Quan Helv translated Anchovy into Chinese.

Author's Profile

Kim Joo-young is a novelist who began his career as a writer with the publication of “A Period of Dormancy” in 1971 in the monthly Literature magazine. His published novels are TradesmanThe Sound of ThunderA Skate Fish and GoodbyeMother; his short story collections are Winter Bird and In Search of a Bird. He is the recipient of the Korea Culture and Art Award and Yi Sang Literary Award as well as numerous other literary prizes. In 2007, he received the Eungwan Cultural medal.