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
MAHMOUD DOWLATABADI (Iran) - The Colonel
AMITAV GHOSH (India) - River of Smoke
HARUKI MURAKAMI (Japan) - 1Q84
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
BANANA YOSHIMOTO (Japan) – The Lake
I know I said this wouldn’t be all Shin all the time, but…
Shin Kyung-sook’s Please Look After Mom makes in onto the NYT bestseller list — first time ever for a Korean novel. Congrats to Shin and Kim Chi-young!
via @changbi_books via media daum (both Korean only)
“Please Look After Mom makes it on the NYT bestseller list! The first time ever for a Korean novel, and a big step as something that the whole publishing world pays attention to. Congratulations!”
…and there it is:
Update: hm… just saw that there’s an “international version” too with a different cover and title. I must say, I like the international cover better, but it looks a lot less “O” friendly and suspiciously “foreign.”
Please Look After Mother (international version)
Please Look After Mom (U.S. version)
Okay, for the record, the Korean version with Dali’s Dawn, Noon, Sunset, and Twilight as the cover image:
Chi-Young Kim is one of the best known young translators of Korean fiction. To this date, she has translated and published five Korean novels in English: I have the Right to Destroy Myself (2007) and Your Republic is Calling You (2010) by Kim Young-ha, Toy City (2007) by Lee Dong-ha, Tongue (2009) by Jo Kyung-ran, and most recently Please Look After Mom (2011) by Shin Kyung-sook. Kim and I recently conducted an e-mail interview.
(For Part 1 of this interview, click here.)
SOV: I really like what you said about dialogue — the importance of “underlying sentiments and unspoken feelings.” There are all kinds of subtextual cues about the way characters talk and behave towards each other that usually help us understand characters better. Literal translations of dialogue often run the risk of destroying any sense of a lively interaction between speakers. I remember being especially impressed by the fluency of all the colloquialisms in your translation of Kim Young-ha’s first book (I know from experience how hard it can be to keep these sooth). Can you talk about specific instances of slang or idiomatic expressions that you might have struggled with? (I think it might help less-experienced translators to hear how you work through these specific issues.)
CYK: I can’t think of anything specific about the slang/colloquialisms in I Have the Right to Destroy Myself (it’s been several years…) but I was just working on something recently, where a prostitute says to her customer, “자기 멋져.” I kept coming back to that, because not only do you have to convey the meaning behind it, you also have to make it sound authentic. I don’t think a woman in that situation would say, “Honey, you’re great.” I thought about how prostitutes spoke to each other in books and movies. In the past year, I’d read Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, which has several prostitutes as the main characters. I thought about how he had described that world, and how those characters spoke, and settled on “Baby, you’re awesome,” for now. It still doesn’t feel 100% right to me, so I’ll probably revisit it later, after I have some more time to think about it. Usually, I’ll put something down in my first draft, as a place holder, and then go back to it again and again. Often, I’ll ask people around me what they think someone would say in a certain situation. Frequently it isn’t until the last moment that I settle on something, and even then, that’s not the end of it. Since the editorial process at publishing companies take a year or so, in that time various copy editors/editors may make better suggestions, or I might think of something more fitting. Time and willingness to be open to other suggestions are two very important factors when I try to find the perfect expression for things like that. Continue reading
SOV: You’ve translated a fair number of important Korean books into English now. Were there meaningful differences in the kinds of challenges they posed for you as a translator?
CYK: All the books I’ve translated posed different challenges. Kim Young-ha’s books, for example, contained scenes around cardgames/hwatu, cars, sports, and video games. Stereotypically, I know next to nothing about those topics, so a major concern was conveying those scenes authentically. So, for example, I didn’t know anything about StarCraft, and in Your Republic Is Calling You, there is a whole section detailing the action on someone’s computer screen. I looked up the terminology of different characters and weapons, did a draft of that section, then found someone who plays StarCraft to read it over and give me pointers. That person edited that section with the language StarCraft aficionados use. In Tongue, the biggest challenge was the stream of consciousness writing style. When you directly translate the way the author wrote into English, none of it made much sense. I had to be very careful about keeping the tone and mood of the original while making sure to convey the meaning in a clear way.
For Please Look After Mom, the fact that the Korean original doesn’t always name the characters threw me for a loop. As you know, in Korean it’s easy to figure out who’s speaking, what the relationship is between the people speaking, or what the mood or tone of voice is, even without much description. I had to be very conscious of how someone with no knowledge of Korean would understand the dialogue, as well as the underlying sentiments and unspoken feelings. Also, the editor I worked closely with was confused by the fact that none of the cities were named, and that several universities were just referred to as Y University. All Koreans know what university that is, but we ended up being very specific about those types of names after consulting with the author. I had the most interactive experience doing Please Look After Mom. The editor would ask questions and make suggestions, and I would answer what I could and ask the author to clarify, or if she could add more or delete, depending on the editor’s suggestion. Then, the author would weigh in with her ideas and preferences, which I then conveyed to the editor. So it was truly a collaborative project.