Sunday, May 26, 2013

Literary Bonanza, Korean Style!

...not to be confused with Gangnam Style, of course...
Oh no, did I really just write that?  Ahem.  I need a do-over.

How do you say jealous in Korean?

I have no idea!  I asked one of my students, and he assured me that there was no word for jealousy in Korean, because Koreans never feel jealous of one another.  According to him, they just say "Wow..." in an admiring tone.  Since jealousy is one of those universal emotions, I was going to argue the point, but then again, I'm not Korean, so I let it slide.

Choose your language and prepare to find the word for jealousy, because I'm about to make you feel that way:

On May 25th, I went to the 10 Magazine book club in Seoul.  The featured guest was Young-Ha Kim, the author of the novels I Have the Right to Destroy Myself and Your Republic is Calling You and Black Flower.

Krys Lee, whose book Drifting House is the best short story collection I've read in decades, moderated a discussion with Young-Ha Kim about writing and translation.  Seeing them sharing the same stage was incredible. Kim has a wonderfully dry wit and a well-developed sense of irony.  He also has a deft touch with answering audience questions, even when they are a bit on the cringeworthy side.  Krys Lee must have been born asking thoughtful questions.  She comes across in all her appearances as so caring and so respectful of other writers. No matter how well-known she becomes (which is a given) she will always have that sensitivity; she will never let it become all about her.

(Fun fact: Young-Ha Kim did a new and better translation of The Great Gatsby into Korean in 2009. The previous version apparently had everyone speaking to each other in formal language. He got the idea to do a new translation when he overheard some high school boys in a bookstore complaining bitterly about it.  The book is now #2 on the Korean bestseller list, because of the movie version.  Kim remarked that none of his own novels have cracked the top ten list yet.)

Young-Ha Kim also read a short excerpt from Your Republic is Calling You.  I quickly found the passage in my copy and followed along.  Maybe I should have just been drinking in his voice, but I enjoyed the double experience.

During the short break, I gathered my nerve and approached Young-Ha Kim, clutching my copy of Your Republic is Calling You.  Having found out in the first part of the event that he also lives in Busan, I used that as my opening.  "Where do you live?" I then said brightly.  (Ooops, a little bit stalker fangirl. Tune it back a little.) I quickly named the sections of the city where I live and work and said how much I like the city. Young-Ha Kim admitted that he lives in Haundae, near the beach, then said since we are neighbors, when I see him, I should say hi.  What a charming man.  (I think I'll take a walk on Haeundae Beach next weekend, clutching a copy of Black Flower.)

Also on hand to dazzle my bookworm eyes was Charles Montgomery, who does the very excellent blog Modern Korean Literature in Translation.  He is superhuman in his efforts to get Korean literature out there, translated and available to English-language readers.  He needs to be; Korean publishers come across as clueless at best and recalcitrant at worst about promoting their literature to an international audience.  They are so bad that when I got here in 2004, I just figured that there was no Korean literature, until I found a few slim volumes tucked on a shelf in Kyobo.  Anyway: Charles. Good guy, good work.  His blog is also the best place to check out photos and videos of the wonderful day I've been blathering on about: Go here. Run, don't walk.

As if all those fabulous people weren't enough to put me on permanent squeeeeeeeeeee!, there was one more surprise.  There was a hot-looking Korean guy in the audience, listening attentively to Young-Ha Kim, who in turn wrapped up his appearance by introducing his "honored guest" Chang-Rae Lee.  Lee, a Korean-American novelist, is the author of Native Speaker, Aloft, A Gesture Life and The Surrendered, which was one of the Pulitzer fiction finalists in 2011.  Classy guy. I'm sure Young-Ha Kim would have gladly shared the stage with him, but Lee let it be Young-Ha Kim's show.  I think that's the theme of my report here.  All the principals involved in this event showed so much grace and class.

So yeah, three authors in one room at the same time.

Are you jealous of me?


Choco Pie said...

Oh, Koreans never get jealous, that's pretty funny. 부럽다, 질투, 샘, and probably more that I haven't learned yet.

There's even a famous Korean expression, 꽃샘추위, the cold is jealous of the flowers, that they say when spring comes late or when spring seems to be starting and there's a sudden cold winter blast.

Susan, I'm still studying Korean and I've even started reading some Korean literature in the are you jealous of me? I still need a translation nearby in case I get in a pickle, but I'm getting there, slowly.

I agree, Charles Montgomery's blog is the best (aside from yours, of course!)


Bybee said...

Reading Korean lit in the original! I'm jealous! I'll bet Charles would be jealous, too.

The Relentless Reader said...

I'm totally jealous. We Americans are good at that ;)

Care said...

Jealous! "Wow", I say admiringly.