Category Archives: Korean literature

Shin Kyung-sook’s 엄마를 부탁해 in Portuguese


My birthday is in two days, but I got a special gift today! I went into Livraria Cultura, a huge bookstore here in São Paulo, and almost immediately was drawn to a cover not completely unfamiliar to me. To my utter surprise, it was the Brazilian edition of Shin Kyung Sook’s Please look after mom (엄마를 부탁해)! They used the UK cover, my favourite one, so I noticed it on the spot!

Do I even need to say how surprised and absolutely overjoyed this made me? Well, I was ecstatic. So much in fact, that I almost bought two copies of the book, just in case, you know? Fortunately, I got my senses back before reaching the cashier, but I was really this close to bringing them both home with me. Silly, I know, but for this short-lived moment, I felt that it was just a matter of time until Brazilian publishers realised that Korean literature rocks big time and started working hard on translations of some of the best-known authors out there. It’s not that I think that this will never happen, no, nothing like this. It’s just that, taking into account that Brazilians don’t really read, I’d say this process will take much longer than I’d like it to take. Baby steps, baby steps!

Still, it is something! I mean, up until now, my only source for Korean literature of any kind was Amazon. So, being able to go into a physical store and leaf through a book written by a Korean author and, even more amazing, have this book translated into my mother tongue… Well, it blew my mind, really.

That was quite a birthday gift, I tell you. I didn’t even open it yet, because I wanna do it on May 2nd, slowly, savouring every second of this experience. I just really hope the translator did a good job.

Korean e-book X Brazilian edition: translation challenges

My Korean is still pretty much Elementary, but I got  엄마를 부탁해 (in Korean, of course) for iPhone a few months ago. The reason why I got it is that it’s also an audiobook and I desperately need to improve my listening skills. I also find the sound of Korean really soothing and this book does a better job of getting me to calm down than white noise or nature sounds (it sounds stupid, but it’s true, what can I do?). Despite having just a basic knowledge of the language now, I think it’ll be interesting trying to compare, in the future, how the translator – whoever he/she is – dealt with all the challenges that undoubtedly arose during the translation process.

If you have an Apple device, you can get this e-book here.


Please look after mom links

A woman goes missing in Seoul (The New York Times) – review by Mythili G. Rao
Review – Please look after mom (The Washington Post) – by Art Taylor
10 Magazine Interview with Shin Kyung-sook (KTLIT)– by Charles Montgomery
Interview: novelist Shin Kyung-sook Part 1 and Part 2 (subject object verb)
This and this (KTLIT) – on the differences between US and UK covers
Changbi audiobooks for iPhone/iPod – where I learnt about the above-mentioned audiobook

edit: Portuguese speakers may enjoy this interview with the Shin Kyung-sook. She speaks Korean in it, but the subtitles are in Portuguese.


The Female Grotesque @ GuernicaMag


Ruth Williams interviews Kim Hyesoon  January 1, 2012

“Within the South Korean literary tradition, women poets are called yŏryu siin (female poet). Male poets are simply called siin (poet). According to Kim Hyesoon, this gendered terminology results in the marginalization of women poets’ authentic voices, as yŏryu siin are expected to write pretty, sentimental verse that speaks in a passive voice. It’s not a stretch to see this, as Kim does, as an extension of Korean gender norms that define “acceptable” behavior for women according to three rigid roles: ch’ŏnyŏ (young unmarried woman/virgin), ajuma(middle-aged woman/mother), and halmoni (grandmother). Each role requires the woman to serve a different master, Kim has noted: “She must first obey her father, then her husband when she becomes an ajuma, and finally obey her son as a halmoni. Any woman who violates or lives outside of these roles is called a ch’angyŏ (prostitute).”

In direct contrast to the sentimental and gentle poetry of the yŏryu siin, Kim Hyesoon’s work functions like the body of a female grotesque; her poetry seeps from the page, protruding with images of violence, vomit, trash, bodily decay, and death. Kim’s poems consistently resist the pressure to beautify; they take instead the subjects deemed appropriate to Korean women—family, motherhood, romantic love—and defile them with the violent expressions of an oppressed identity. However, this grotesqueness is no mere aesthetic choice; as Kim tells me in the interview that follows, her work serves as a kind of conduit for a collective voice: “Women who have been disappeared by violence are howling. The voices of disappeared women are echoing. I sing with these voices.” Thus, for Kim Hyesoon, poetry engages directly in a political struggle in which Korean women articulate a “new voice” that allows them to inhabit multiple and fluid identities free of restrictive gender norms. It’s an incredibly powerful tool in women’s struggle for equality because it is only the “language of [a] poetry that has schizophrenia” that can force the “father language down from power.”

While Kim Hyesoon’s poetry certainly has much to offer women poets and readers interested in feminism, her work also presents a unique voice coming out of the landscape of a fully industrialized, globally ascendant South Korea. In light of the ongoing military and economic ties between South Korea and the U.S., such a voice is worth examining. Regardless of gender or national identity, the allure of Kim Hyesoon’s poetry lies in its enjoinder that we embrace the differences we embody even if these aspects of ourselves are maligned by culture at large. “If someone asks,” she writes, “Is / anyone alive? Break, your, head, open, and, show, your, ten, ta, cle.”

Given the powerful imagery, language, and experimentation that typifies her work, Kim Hyesoon is one of the foremost Korean poets today. Among the first women to begin publishing in Korean literary journals in the late 1970s, Kim’s work has earned her numerous accolades. She was the first woman poet to receive the prestigious Kim Su-yong and Midang awards, both named after contemporary male poets. Three English translations of Kim’s poetry by Don Mee Choi have appeared. When the Plug Gets Unplugged (Tinfish Press, 2005), Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers (Action Books, 2008), and last year’s All the Garbage of the World, Unite!(Action Books, 2011) serve as wonderful introductions to Kim’s work. A selection of translations of Kim’s poems alongside the original Korean can be found in Anxiety of Words: Contemporary Poetry by Korean Women (Zephyr Press, 2006), also translated by Don Mee Choi. While Kim’s poetry is well known throughout Korea, she is also a respected author of literary criticism and a member of Another Culture, a Korean feminist organization. Currently, she lives in Seoul, where she teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.

In the conversation that follows, Kim describes her attraction to the grotesque, offering American readers insight into the rich tradition of Korean poetry and mythology. Additionally, she discusses the role poets play in Korean culture and comments on the current status of women’s poetry and feminism in South Korea. We corresponded by email with the generous help of Song Gyu Han, who translated the questions into Korean and Ms. Kim’s answers into English.”

To read the interview, please go to Guernica Mag.

A (very) late 2011 recap, part 1: Hangul Day


I had originally thought about publishing this and some other posts about Korean events that happened in 2011 before the year ended, but things were hectic and, well, I lost my flash drive with the cropped pictures. Better late than never, of course, but I feel a bit about being such a mess in the recent times. Anyway, let’s move on!

Small “shrine” to King Sejong

To celebrate Hangul Day in 2011, USP’s group of Korean studies got together with the Korea Foundation and the South Korean consulate to create the exhibition “Hangul, more than an alphabet“. The event took place in one of the university’s libraries and offered visitors information on the origin of Hangul, as well as showcasing some objects with Hangul characters, poems and kids books written by Korean authors and translated into Portuguese (great, but what about a few grown-up books, too?).

Korean kids books translated into Portuguese

The posters on how Hangul works (below) were not completely new to me, since they were the same ones featured in that cultural festival I attended months ago. That wasn’t a problem, though, because, in all honesty, I hadn’t read them before. =p

After going through them, I learnt a few things, like how the Korean language, with its 72 million speakers, is the 14th most spoken language in the world and one of the few to have its own writing system. Other interesting findings include the fact that the vowels were created based on three fundamental elements – sky, earth and man.

Seo Jeong-ju’s Beside a chrysanthemum; part of Yi Sang’s Wings; Kim Chun-su’s Flower

Of course, these facts can probably be found on Wikipedia (which has, apparently, a quite complete page on Hangul), but I do hate using the internet for reading/studying long texts – I get headaches -, so having the chance to check the posters out was quite fortunate.

Facsimile of Hunminjeongeum, the 1446 document that describes the Korean alphabet

But what I found really interesting was something else. Because of the wide range of sounds that the Korean alphabet can represent, it was deemed by linguists the alphabet best fit to render languages that have no written form. And, in fact, something like this was attempted with some of the inhabitants of Bau-Bau, a city located in the Indonesian island of Buton. Since the Roman alphabet cannot represent many of the sounds in the native language of the Cia-Cia tribe, Hangul was suggested as an alternative and teachers were even sent from Korea. Now, apparently the project was discontinued, but you can read more about it here and here.

A couple more pictures I took there:

Random objects embellished with the Korean characters

Yi Mun-yol in The New Yorker


This is nothing new, but it’s been in my drafts’ box for a while, waiting for me to write a comment. I was just finishing a post on some Korean movies that were screened in São Paulo International Film Festival and as I couldn’t prepare the pictures in time for it to go up now, before I leave for work, I decided to postpone it ‘til tonight and publish this one.

So, to sum it up, a short story written by a Korean writer made it all the way to The New Yorker. Great news indeed, right? Click through to learn more about it.

And if you’re interested in Korean literature and would like a bit of a background on why it has been gaining recognition and also get to know a few writers, this article on The Korea Times is a good start. Korean Modern Literature in Translation is also a great source on the subject. Be sure to pay the site a visit!

(via Yi Mun-yol short story in The New Yorker, a first! | subject object verb)

Check out more posts from this collaboration HERE.
Check out the other collaborators’ blogs here.
Check out The Korea Blog!

Pak Min-gyu’s “Sponge Cake” Translated by KTLIT


Click here to read!

I am sort of working on a few posts on Korean literature (or, rather, the few books/authors/stories I know), but they won’t be out so soon because I want to try and make them as interesting as possible, in order to, maybe, encourage one or two people to give it a try. I’m no literary critic, but since I’m a journalist, I think it’s only fair I try to write a balanced and informative piece without opinions like “it’s fun reading” or “it sucks” like I have before in here (well, sometimes I’m too lazy to research and put some effort into writing, what can I say?). Actually, there’s a post about the Portable Library of Korean Fiction that is more like a presentation and, therefore, will hopefully be ready in a few days.

So, for now, click on the title to entertain yourselves with Sponge Cake, a Park Min-gyu short story, translated by Ed Park and edited by Charles Montgomery of KTLIT.

(If you like it, be sure to check Korean Standards, also written by Park and translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé.)


Check out more posts from this collaboration HERE.
Check out the other collaborators’ blogs here.
Check out The Korea Blog!