Choco-pie fever prescience

This: Kaesong lets Choco Pie fever get out of control-INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily

Reminded me of this, from Park Chan-wook’s 2000 film JSA:

jsa mmm…chocopie (sorry, I lamely can’t get the video to embed correctly.)

The conversation goes:

Lee Byung-hyun: Hyeong…

Song Kang-ho: Thing is, I don’t understand why we can’t make stuff like this in our country.

LBH: Hyeong… hey, you don’t want to go down South? I mean, you could stuff yourself full of choco-pies.

[uncomfortable silence]

YBH: Geez, forget it then.

SKH: Listen, you little bastard, I’m just going to say this once so listen good. I dream of a day when our country will make cookies that taste a thousand times better than South Korean cookies. Got it? But until then, I have no choice but to dream about these cookies.

LBH: Ah, let’s forget about it. You’re all talk anyway…

Choco-pie: the great divider and uniter.

The Yellow Sea screening at The Korea Society (NYC)


The Korea Society – Film – November 20, 2011, 4pm.

Ian Hideo Levy: An original work of literature, if it is good, should read like a translation.

At first I was skeptical. A lecture by an American who’d mastered Japanese and was writing novels in Japanese. His name was Ian Hideo Levy (b. 1950). I had homework. It was a Thursday. It had been a long week.

But boy am I glad I went – even though it was just for an hour.

He’d been immersed in Japanese for decades, reading and writing only Japanese. It felt much more natural for him to speak Japanese at lectures, he said, but he chose to speak English. He spoke it beautifully, mostly without referring to his notes. He paced, gesticulated. Sometimes he’d trip over a word, or there would be stoppage in his throat, an English word trying to make its way out.

He used to be a translator of Japanese literature. For many years, he stuck with translation only before a Japanese writer, Kenji Nakagami said to him — after drinking with Levy till six o’clock in the morning, “Join us.” Don’t just translate, Kenji was saying. Start writing in Japanese.

He told a useful story, one I knew I could use in this blog, about the problem of translating plural and singular out of Japanese into English. The same problem exists for Korean. He spoke of the expression “新宿の光” how he’d always thought of it as “Lights of Shinjuku.” He said it wasn’t until he saw the nine thousand or so signboards illuminating the night, bleeding into one another, that the 光 did not refer to many lights, but one innumerable, indivisible thing.

As if that wasn’t good enough, he went on to say this about literature. First he reminded us of the commonplace that we often hear about translations – that good translations should have a sense of being its own original. He turned it around to say that all good literature in these times – no matter where it is set, no matter who it’s about – should have some sense of being a translation, a sense of a way of communicating, a way of feeling, a way of being that has been lost in the final product.

He talked about zainichi writer Yi Yang-ji (Yangji Lee/이양지/李良枝) who wrote in Japanese. One of the themes that zainichi writers explores is the idea of going back. Right now Korea is divided, but the idea is that they will return from Japan once the Koreas have unified. Zanichi (在日/재일) is interestingly untranslatable. Literally, it means “residing in Japan” and refers only to ethnic Koreans. In an English article in Japan Times, he said that Yi had been described as a “South Korean writer residing in Japan” which reminds you of a bestselling writer from Pusan taking some time off in Japan and writing.

He talked about Yi, as a young zainichi woman, going to Korea as a foreign student to reconnect with her Korean heritage. She realizes that she cannot accept the langauge. There is a split between 母語 (mother tongue) and 国語 (national language). She talks about 言葉の杖 (언어의 지팡이) which Levy translated as the “cane” or “staff” of language. Every morning she would wake up and wonder to herself — should she reach for the “아” or the “あ”?

He told a story about how he got a call from a woman who sounded very young, like a freshman in university. The voice said “This is Yi Yang-ji.”

It said, “I read your novel, Levy-san. It was wonderful. Keep working hard.”

You could tell how much this meant to Levy, even as he described the exchange for us. A zainichi writer 先輩/선배 who wrote in Japanese, cheering on her an American writer 後輩후배 writing in Japanese.

He asked her if she could consider herself 韓国系日本人/한국계일본인/Korean-Japanese. She said that was such an American question. She said that is not how identity works, that it is not some social contract.

A few days later, he saw the headline, “Korean writer dead.” He pictured an old male
writer, a Nobel Prize contender perhaps, having passed away in Seoul, wearing hanbok.

They were talking about Yi.

Man Asian Literary Prize long list announced

The Man Asian Literary Prize List was announced on Saturday, and Shin Kyung-sook’s Please Look After Mom has made the list. She joins an impressive list of authors (see below).

The three judges this year were Razia Iqbal, Chang-rae Lee, and Vika Swarup, and the statement of the Chair Judge (Iqbal) reminds us, quite simply, of why we read:

“In scope, range and subject matter, our longlist presents us with the epic as well as the quotidian, the established writers as well as some on the cusp of greater success. But what connects them is a thing that happens when we read good fiction: the cumulative impact of sentence after good sentence is transforming for the reader. So, while it is hoped that the list reflects among the best of what is coming out of Asia, it also presents Asia to itself, an equally important mirror to hold up.”

I’m struck by this comment about “present[ing] Asia to itself,” especially given that the works are judged based on the availability of a good translation. It is true, the list presents Asia to itself as imagined and codified by a non-Asian literary committee. Don’t get me wrong: this is a great prize and an amazing list of authors and works, but let’s not forget how important it still is for “non-Western” works to be validated by the “global” (read: Western) literary establishment.

You can read the full press release here and see video of the announcement here.

Congratulations to Shin Kyung-sook, Chi-young Kim, and all the other authors and translators!

Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Longlist

JAMIL AHMAD (Pakistan) - The Wandering Falcon

TAHMIMA ANAM (Bangladesh) - The Good Muslim

JAHNAVI BARUA (India) - Rebirth

RAHUL BHATTACHARYA (India) - The Sly Company of People Who Care


AMITAV GHOSH (India) - River of Smoke


ANURADHA ROY (India) - The Folded Earth

KYUNG-SOOK SHIN (South Korea) - Please Look After Mom

TARUN J TEJPAL (India) - The Valley of Masks

YAN LIANKE (China) – Dream of Ding Village


FTW: 42nd Korea Times Translation Award

The 42nd Korea Times Translation Award has been announced and the Grand Prize was awarded to Jung Ye-won for her translation of Jung Young-moon’s “A Way of Rememberance.”

This award is a great push for new translators to continue their work — if I may toot SOV’s alumni horn a little: Sora 2005, Jenny 2004 and 2006, Jae-won 2008 — and it has awarded some great translators. I’m not actually that arrogant, I mean all these others including Brother Anthony, Yu Young-nan, Stephen Epstein, Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, Richard E. Kim (my current hero after reading the re-issue of his novel The Martyred), Dafna Zur, Jung Ha-yun, and on and on.

Special shout-out this year to one of the commendation prize winners Patty Park, writer, blogger and friend of SOV for her translation of Yoon Sung-hee’s short story “The Hole.”

–> And another special shout-out from Sora to Hyo-jin, a.k.a. Former Student Extraordinaire, for her translation of Kim Hoon’s “Rivers and Mountains Without End”!

Here are links to the stories and interviews with the translators:

Grand Prize: ‘A Way of Remebrance”

Commedation Award: ‘The Hole’ [sic]

Commendation Award: “Rivers and Mountains Without End”

and The Judges’ Report

Congratulations everyone!