Trio of literary tales adapted to cartoon omnibus via Joongang Daily

Trio of literary tales adapted to cartoon omnibus-INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily.

Ah, the omnibus film…a well-loved form in Korea. Possibly related to the yŏnjak-sosŏl (linked novel) form? Serialization? In any case, three classic Korean short stories have been made into an animated omnibus film, “Buckwheat Flower, A Lucky Day and Spring,” co-produced by EBS, Gimm-Young Publishing, and Meditation with a Pencil Productions.

Here are the stories with links to translations:

“When the Buckwheat Blooms,” (매밀꽃 필 무렵) by Yi Hyo-sok (tr. Ju-chan and Bruce Fulton) / Stephen Hoyle

“Spring, Spring,” (봄,봄) by Kim Yu-jeong/Kim Yujŏng/Kim Yu-jong. No online translation, but here are two other stories: “Wife,” and “The Golden Bean Patch.”

“A Lucky Day,” (운수 좋은 날) by Hyon Chin-gon/Hyun Chin-kon/Hyun Jin-gun. Here’s another of his best-known stories, “A Society That Drives You to Drink” (tr. Ju-chan and Bruce Fulton) 

All three stories are available in translation in Modern Korean Literature: An Anthology, 1908-65, ed. Chung Chong-Wha.

p.s. I just moved, summer is hectic, etc., etc., I think I’m almost on stable ground again so I hope to be back soon.




Sad Men: Mangwondong Brothers Review



Kim Ho-yeon, Mangwondong Brothers

김호연, <망원동 브라더스>


The Mangwondong Brothers are four men ages 30 through 60, all struggling professionally, socially, and/or academically and exhibiting symptoms typically found in emasculated males, who share a tiny rooftop studio where they dream of a comeback. They each represent a group of unhappy Korean men such as “twilight divorcés (divorced after the children have left the nest),” “penguin dads (fathers who remain in Korea to support his children and spouses living abroad for better education; similar to “goose fathers” but too poor to fly back and forth for visits),” civil service exam-preppers, and starving artists. By the end of the novel, each of the four men are employed and have wives or serious girlfriends.

Continue reading

Event Announcement: Bari Abandoned

This is a little bit last minute, but music fans will be interested in this.


As part of the Yeowoorak Festival being held at the National Theater of Korea this summer, Bari Abandoned is a musical collaboration between pansori singer Han Seung-seok and pianist Jung Jae-il. It’s a lyrical re-telling of the story of Baridaegi, the last of seven daughters born to a king who abandons her only to need her help later when he falls ill. To save him, she goes on an arduous journey through the underworld to retrieve the “elixir of life.” Baridaegi, or Princess Bari as she is later called, is the ancestral shaman to all Korean shamans, because of her ability to travel through the underworld, soothe the souls of the dead, and heal the living. She’s also an important mythical figure in a larger sense, as she represents many of those who’ve felt “abandoned” by Korea.

One thing I appreciated about the lyrics is how the writers expanded the meaning of the story. For example, one song is dedicated to a migrant worker who died in Korea. As for the performance, the stage design is very intimate and minimalist, which keeps the focus on the music.

Also, and more to the point, English subtitles (translated by yours truly) are provided! Though I don’t ordinarily do “media translation,” I happily accepted the offer to translate the lyrics, as I have also been hard at work translating Hwang Sok-yong’s novel Princess Bari (which should be on shelves sometime next year), another very modern retelling of this enduring story.

Both the piano and the pansori performances are quite powerful, so I highly recommend this show to anyone who appreciates a little blend of “east” and “west.”

Click here to purchase tickets.

Tonight in NYC: An Evening with Novelist Kyung-sook Shin

Literature – Ill Be Right There – An Evening with Novelist Kyung-sook Shin.

I’ll Be Right There – An Evening with Novelist Kyung-sook Shin

Friday, June 13, 2014 at 7PM
Korean Cultural Service NY


Free Admission: RSVP required (212-759-9550 ext. 206 or 

The Korean Cultural Service New York welcomes critically acclaimed novelist Kyung-sook Shin for a reading of her latest work to be published in America, I’ll Be Right There (어디선가 나를 찾는 전화벨이 울리고).

Shin is a celebrated best-selling author and one of the most widely read novelists in Korea. She has won a wide variety of prestigious literary awards including the Munye Joongang New Author Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Manhae Literature Prize, the Yi Sang Literary Award, and the Dong-in Literary Award among many others.

Please Look After Mom, published in 2009, is Shin’s first book to appear in English and it has been met with critical acclaim; since it’s publication, it has sold over 2 million copies worldwide. Shin became the first Korean and first woman to receive the Man Asian Literary Prize for the English translation of Please Look After Mom in 2011.

In her new, highly anticipated novel, I’ll Be Right There, Shin delivers a moving story of love, friendship, and solitude of youth in the turbulent 1980’s Korea. As she does so, Shin bridges the gaps of East and West by using European literature as an “interpreter of emotion.” Following the highly cultured character of Jung Yoon as she recounts the experiences of her formative years, we are able to glimpse how her childhood connects with her tumultuous college days and in turn, the relationships—both complex and fragile—that she has formed in her life.

Shin will be reading and presenting her work at the Korean Cultural Service New York, followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

For questions regarding the event or to RSVP, please contact Yeonji Hwang at 212-759-9550 (ext. 206) or

Reviews for I’ll Be Right There

“Shin’s perspective on relationships is nuanced; she doesn’t shy away from what is complex, complicated or painful in everyday human connections…There is also vibrancy and richness in the lives of her characters, and an understanding of love and solitude that is universal.” —Electric Literature

“Tender and mournful, the latest novel from best-selling South Korean novelist Shin (Please Look after Mom, 2011) considers young love and loss in an era of political ferment…Shin’s uncomplicated yet allusive narrative voice delivers another calmly affecting story, simultaneously foreign and familiar.” –Kirkus

“Shin can suggest profound implications in restrained detail, and though the story ends in tragedy, her frequent references to both Eastern and Western literature testify to the duty to hope and stay alive.” —Publishers Weekly

RIP: Prof. Suk-kee Yoh, ICF Chairman and Champion of Korean Literature

via Brother Anthony:

The International Communication Foundation (ICF) has announced the death earlier today of its Chairman Yeo Seok-ki (Suk-kee Yoh)

Professor Yoh was formerly professor of English literature at Korea University.

As Chairman of the ICF he has overseen the provision of very important grants  to a number of overseas universities for the funding of teaching positions or other projects linked to Korean Studies, especially Korean literature. Also the ICF has been awarding generous scholarships to younger scholars interested in the translation of Korean literature.
He will be greatly missed
Brother Anthony

Sora, Jaewon, and I first worked together at the ICF-sponsored Korean Literature Translation Workshop, and we’ve all benefitted from the  support of Chairman Yoh and the ICF, as have so many excellent translators and scholars of Korean literature. His contribution to the promotion of Korean cultural studies and literary translation was huge, and we thank him for it.

Translated from the news item/obituary via NEWSis:

Drama critic and Professor of English Literature Yoh Suk-kee (92), Chairman of the International Communication Foundation, passed away on June 12 following a car accident.

Born in Keumreung in 1922, he entered the English Literature department at Tokyo University in 1939, but was drafted in 1944 and had to suspend his studies. He returned to Korea in 1945, and completed his studies in English literature at Seoul National University in 1946. After working as a lecturer at Daegu University, he joined the faculty of the English literature department at Korea University in 1953.

He was the president of the English Language and Literature Association of Korea (ELLAK) and the Shakespeare Association of Korea. He served as director of the Korea Culture and Arts Foundation (precursor to ARKO, the Arts Council of Korea), and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He became Chairman of the ICF in 1984.

In 1996, the International Association of Theater Critics – Korea established the Yoh Suk-kee Prize for Criticism.

His scholarly works include: Dramaturgie [희곡론] (1964), 20th Century Literary Theory [20세기 문학론] (1966), Contemporary Theatre [현대연극] (1970), Realism in Korean Theatre [한국연극의 현실] (1974), Notes on Contemporary English and American Dramaturgical Theory [현대 영미 희곡작품론 노트] (1987), Comparative Research on Eastern and Western Drama [동서연극의 비교연구] (1987).

His major works of translation include: Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence [달과 6펜스] (1955), Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man [젊은 예술가의 초상] (1959), Hamlet [햄릿] (1964), Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night ‘십이야'(1964), Richard III ‘리처드 3세'(1964), and Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author [작자를 찾는 6인의 등장인물] (1975).



When Editing Opts the Contributor Out of the OpEd

Image for “When C.E.O.’s Embrace the Occult,” by Boyoun Kim for the New York Times

If you’ve been following me here, you may know that I’m not 100% in love with the cultural reporting of “far-flung correspondents” sent abroad by major English language news outlets. So much of it devolves into gawking at niche fads or other cultural “oddities,” often with the inevitable fortune cookie conclusion that, in Asia, “Confucius still say…”

So I was especially excited when I saw that one of my favorite Korean authors, Kim Young-ha, was contributing op-ed pieces to the New York Times. Since his first piece, “When C.E.O.’s Embrace the Occult,” appeared last October (2013), I’ve looked forward to getting his wry take on the latest news from Korea without having to wait a year or two for his next novel. I was surprised, though, by the heavy reliance on reportage in what I thought were supposed to be well-informed personal observations.

As the months passed, the reporting seemed to increase as Kim’s personal anecdotes and sly asides decreased. It was as if his opinion, which is so influenced by his writerly way of illustrating how current events in Korea are felt as every person’s individual history, was being marginalized. In its place there loomed an editorial voice that needed to explain the facts and figures behind the news items.

When I got to have a turn at translating the essays, I discovered that the Grey Lady’s style guide is indeed zealously enforced, and fact checking rules the day. I’ve translated, taught, and written enough about Kim Young-ha’s work to see where he ends and where the influence of past editing processes for these articles seems to peer over his shoulder. He’s expressed his dissatisfaction with the process to me and the other translators (Krys Lee and Sora), and it’s uncertain whether he’ll want to keep contributing his particular acuity and lively histories of contemporary issues in South Korea to the Times.

Last week’s “Navigating a Post-Samsung Era,” for example, was meant to show the conflicted ambivalence Koreans feel towards Samsung and the chaebol system, but ended up repeating the same facts, figures, and lore about Samsung and the Lee family as the Japan Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and the New York Times itself to name a few. The Washington Post’s article, “In S. Korea, the Republic of Samsung” from two years ago even covered much of the same territory about what a post-Samsung Korea might look like.

The thing is, Kim Young-ha knows how to spin a great yarn. His most important contribution to the information reported about Korea is how he shows the emotional depth and self-consciousness with which Koreans experience their history. Here’s what he wanted to tell us about Samsung and Lee Kun-hee’s succession:

Very few people predicted that the introverted, taciturn third son of Samsung’s founder Lee Byung-chul would succeed his father after he passed away in late 1987 and turn it into the economic giant it is today. I certainly wasn’t one of them.
In 1993, after Lee Kun-hee called Samsung executives to a meeting in Frankfurt and announced new management with the now famous saying, “Change everything but your wife and children,” I was drinking beer with my friends at a campus bar in Seoul. I made two predictions that day; the first was right, but the second was wrong. First, I said that Lee Kun-hee’s ambitious plans for a Samsung Motor Company wouldn’t succeed, and second, that the whole conglomerate would collapse as a result of such a risky venture. Lee had been passionate about cars since he was young, and he pushed Samsung into the automotive industry as soon as he took control of the company. Thanks to the wholehearted support of the Korean government and an alliance with Nissan Motors, he launched Samsung Motors.  The company went into receivership in 1999, and Samsung subsequently exited the auto industry. It was a huge blow to the company for sure, but contrary to my second prediction, the Samsung Group didn’t completely collapse. An increased demand for semiconductors worldwide had saved the company.
I still remember that idle bar chatter twenty-one years ago because of the strange thing that happened next. As my friends and I boisterously cheered, “Samsung’s going down!” several bottles of beer materialized at our table. A group of office workers in suits sitting at the next table had sent them over to us. They introduced themselves as Samsung employees, told me that my prediction that the company would fail was completely baseless, and then embarked on a point by point rebuttal of my drunken claim. I don’t remember what proof they gave us, but I remember vividly the reverence they felt towards the heir who had just ascended to his father’s seat. They had already attached the honorific suffix ‘-nim’ to Lee’s title, and spoke with great deference about their “Hoejang-nim” (Honorable Chairman).
Now, in those tumultuous days in the early 1990s it was rare to hear anyone speaking deferentially, let alone reverentially, about a chaebol chairman anywhere near a university. University campuses were by and large critical of the conglomerates that were suppressing the labor movement with which the students felt great solidarity. Needless to say, it was even worse for some heir born under a lucky star and taking over his father’s exalted position. Yet here were these young Samsung employees sitting at a campus bar attaching honorifics to Lee Kun-hee’s title and extolling the virtues of Samsung Corp. Seeing the tenacity of those employees defending their leader, I was almost convinced that Samsung wouldn’t go down so easily.
Things changed quite a bit over the next twenty years. Not only did Samsung not fail, it became the biggest conglomerate in Korea. And the way college students view Samsung has really changed as well. Samsung Electronics is now the number one pick for future employers among college students in almost every survey taken. Of the 670,000 university graduates in a year, 200,000, or almost a third of them sit for Samsung’s employee aptitude test, but this test is just the first step to being chosen as a new hire at Samsung. There’s even a cottage industry of cram schools specifically devoted to Samsung’s exam.
But what would happen if a company like Samsung were to fail?
Kim’s story was deleted and replaced with this:
Very few people predicted that Mr. Lee, the introverted, taciturn third son of Samsung’s founder, Lee Byung-chul, would blossom after succeeding his father after his death in 1987 and turn the company into the economic giant it is today. But under Mr. Lee, Samsung thrived and became a top player in the smartphone and television markets. The share price has skyrocketed during his tenure.
Samsung Electronics is now the No.1 pick among college students for where they want to work, a significant change from 20 years ago, when university campuses were largely critical of the conglomerates, which were suppressing the labor movement. About 200,000 university graduates, almost a third of the country’s annual graduating class, sit for Samsung’s employee aptitude test.
In general, South Koreans’ opinions of the conglomerate are mixed. There is an unmistakable pride that we feel over its success, which is tied to our country’s rise over the last decades. But we are also very wary of Samsung’s deep reach into society.
Where did he go?! I know there are space limitations, but why have a novelist write a World Book entry about Samsung when there’s already Wikipedia?
Kim’s anecdote illustrates the deep-seated collective resistance to the chaebols and the part it played in galvanizing the opposition movement that ushered in a democratic government at one table; and the familial fealty and absolute faith in Samsung that has persisted over the course of three generations at the next table over. And it all goes down with a few dozen bottles of beer. Well, I’m guessing at least that many, given what we know of Korean bar culture. Who else but a writer like Kim Young-ha could get 30-plus years of economic, political, and social history into a story about a chance encounter between two groups of young people on a bender?
For me, the most egregious sanitizing happened last month when Kim Young-ha’s devastated self-critique and anger over the Sewol Ferry tragedy was diluted to the point that at least one blogger on the Korean portal Naver expressed disappointment that the piece didn’t sufficiently represent the rage people were feeling about the failure (and you’d better believe several wanted to blame it on the translator: “밑에 보니 제니 왕 메디나라는 여자가 영작한거 같은데 원문의 느낌이 많이 상실했나봐요~ ㅜ.” Well harumph to you too. And big thanks to my little brother for naver’ing his noona and asking why I messed up the article.). 
After seeing how much Kim Young-ha had been removed from his own writing, I fretted that Sora, Krys, Matt (my in-house editor/husband), and I would be the only ones to get to read these funny, poignant essays in their entirety. But lucky for us, he has graciously agreed to let us post our original translations here on SOV. I’ll be putting up the other ones intermittently, so keep an eye out for more Kim Young-ha, himself.
Here’s the translated piece about Lee Kun-hee and Samsung’s presence in Korea before it went through the editing machine(note that this means it precedes the NYT’s fact-checkers): “Samsung” by Kim Young-ha, translated by Jenny Wang Medina 

And for a larf, here are some vintage Samsung ads. The owl in the last one is my favorite.

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믿을 수 있는 친구, 삼성 (1997)

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내가 먼저! 삼성은 다시 뛰겠습니다 (1997)

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삼성은 세계일류 2 (1995)

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삼성은 세계일류 1 (1995)

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함께사는 우리 사회 (1991)

앞서가는 새기술 三星電子

앞서가는 새기술 三星電子 (1975)

Win $500 for reviewing Bae-Suah story! (not junk)

From LTI Korea, a chance to win a $500 Amazon Gift certificate for reading and reviewing Bae Su-ah’s “Highway with Green Apples,” translated by Sora.

K-Lit Review Contest on

* Topic: Read Highway with Green Apples(A Short Story) by Suah Bae 
(Amazon link: and write a 500 word review.


* Eligibility: Open to all foreigners residing in and outside of Korea

* How to Enter
1) Read the book :-)
2) Post your review in English on the book’s Amazon page (Limited to 500 words)
3) Fill the application form on the LTI Korea’s facebook page

* Prizes
1) Grand Prize (1 person): $500 Gift Card or equivalent
2) First Prize (3 persons): $100 Gift Card or equivalent(Each)
3) Second Prize (5 persons): $50 Gift Card or equivalent(Each)

* Reviews will be judged by the judging panel. They will be looking for originality, content, and humor. 

* The winners will be announced on the LTI Korea’s facebook page after 7/1/2014.

Terms and Conditions:

A. Prizes will be forfeited if a review is plagiarized or has received an award from an another contest. 
B. Literature Translation Institute of Korea(LTI Korea) will have the right to post, print, publish or otherwise use the contest submissions.
C. Any legal issues concerning portrait rights or copyright violations arising from a submission are solely the legal responsibility of the contestant.



Translating Dialect, Inventing Dialect

This is in no way going to be an authoritative or even conclusive post. It’s really just me throwing an idea around, because I’ve been asked roughly a dozen times in the last few months, “How do people translate 사투리 (dialect)?”

This is my usual response: (1) deep sigh (2) “They don’t.” (3) long-winded explanation of every thought I’ve ever had on the subject.

There are, of course, ideas that everyone considers at first: Translating into an existing dialect in the target language. Dumbing down the target language. Narrating it every time a character shifts into dialect. But none of these really work. A Korean who sounds like he’s from Georgia only works if he’s a Korean-American from Georgia. Otherwise it’s distracting. And dumbing down the language does a disservice to the source language–speaking a dialect doesn’t mean that you’re less intelligent, less educated, or less eloquent. Also, narrating the shifts could work if the shifts are minimal, but realistically it would get distracting and simply wouldn’t mean much to the reader, who still doesn’t know what that dialect sounds like.

When I get asked this question in class, I usually try to steer the discussion away from the issue of whether and how we can make English sound like it’s coming from, say, Jeolla Province, and towards the issue of what the dialect is doing there in the first place. Is the setting or location key to the story? For example, is the entire story an immersion into a specific corner of Korea? Or is the setting unremarkable and there just happens to be one character who’s speaking in a regional dialect? If so, why is that character different from the others? What about when two characters shift from standard to regional Korean? Is the dialect itself still important, or is it the shift in intimacy that’s important?

In my opinion, if the dialect or the place itself isn’t that critical to the story, what should be focused on instead is what the dialect signifies. For example, some writers use dialect as part of a character’s voice, often to indicate a looser, more colloquial, often humorous tone. Or it may be less specific to a certain region and more generalizable to a theme, such as city vs. country. In those cases, changes in tone and register in the English should get you most of the way there.

But what about when characters sound different because they’re from a part of the world where non-standard Korean is spoken, and it has nothing to do with their tone or register, education level, or relationships to other characters? What if it’s a stigmatized or a minority dialect, and its presence in the text is as much political as it is beautiful? In that case, I’m really not sure what I would do, other than mourn its loss.

One of my students raised the idea of creating an entirely new dialect for the sake of a translation, such as by tweaking the pronunciation/spelling of English words. I thought it could be feasible if the translator established a clear pattern and didn’t lapse into making it sound like “broken” English. But would that work? Or would it just be laughable?


“Freedom has become freedom for the rich”—Gong Ji-young in CommonWealth Magazine

Gong Ji-young: “This Is Not Freedom, It’s the Law of the Jungle” in CommonWealth Magazine.

Gong Ji-young via CommonWealth Magazine

Taiwan’s CommonWealth magazine featured a great profile and interview with Gong Ji-young last week, and she takes the opportunity to speak at length about her concern about the widening wealth gap and the need for more social welfare in Korea.

Some edifying bits from the article:

Hailing from an affluent family, Gong admits that before she began to study at university she had no idea that some Koreans were so poor they had to do without food. Gong grew up during the iron-fisted military dictatorship of South Korean president Park Chung-hee, the father of incumbent president Park Geun-hye. While studying literature at prestigious Yonsei University, she became involved with the brewing democracy movement. Once she even went to jail for participating in a demonstration.

In response to the question: “From the outside, it appears that South Korea whole-heartedly embraced economic liberalization following the Asian financial crisis. In your eyes, what did the South Koreans gain from liberalization? What did they lose?

A: I am not an economic expert. I can only give you the perspective of an ordinary Korean.

I have personally lived through South Korea’s transformation from military dictatorship to democracy, the country’s banking system being taken over by the IMF following the Asian financial crisis, and the massive opening of free trade. I firmly believe that a closed society is bound to march toward its demise. It doesn’t matter whether it is a group, society or nation, if it is kept closed all the time, it will be doomed. Therefore, we definitely must march toward opening. Yet on the other side, opening does not mean you won’t be doomed. Over the past decade, free trade allowed the South Korean economy to perform very well, but the greatest problem is that it dramatically increased the wealth gap.

When I was a teenager, a person who worked hard made money and was able to enjoy a good life. That was the widely held ideal and belief back then. Now, these ideas have turned out to be illusions. It seems that nothing at all can be expected from the future.


Everyone talks about freedom, freedom. And on the surface, this country definitely looks free. But the true meaning of freedom has not been achieved. Freedom has become freedom for the rich. Right now what we call freedom would be more accurately described as the absence of rules, or the law of the jungle.

I believe that freedom still requires state intervention to ensure that citizens’ rights are protected. The current freedom leaves many people with a feeling of utter despair, because they feel they won’t be able to improve their lives.

And an interesting lead in from the interviewer, given the shared colonial past between the two countries:

Q: Does that mean that the South Koreans are happy? Many Taiwanese people think the South Koreans must be happy, because their economy is doing well.

A: On the political front, democracy is currently taking a step backwards, so I feel unhappy. The economy is also showing many problems, so in that regard I’m not happy either.

The daughter of the president who subjected me to military education serves as president now, so I’m not happy. Now everyone vents their misgivings on the Internet. That’s another thing that makes our ruling party so nervous.

Everyone seems to be very happy because of Korean TV dramas like Man of the Stars. These make people temporarily forget their real problems, just like an injection of pain killer.

Gong Ji-young’s most recent work translated into English is Our Happy Time, tr. by Sora, available now.

Johnny Express – Korean animated short

via Awesome Robo!: Johnny Express – An Awesome Animated Short From Korea.

The only inaccurate thing about this delivery guy is his lack of calling the package recipient a million times to find out where they are.


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