Reading the World Conversation Series with Bae Suah

On May 1st, South Korean author Bae Suah (Recitation, A Greater Music, Nowhere to Be Found, and the forthcoming North Station) will be in Rochester, NY for TWO Reading the World Conversation Series events.

The first will take place in the Humanities Center at Rush Rhees Library on the University of Rochester’s campus from 12:30-2pm. Perfect for any students, faculty, etc., who are on campus and want a little lunchtime brain stimulation!

The second will take place at Nox Cocktail Lounge (Village Gate, 302 N. Goodman) from 6-7:30pm. A very bookish bar and restaurant, Nox is one of our favorite places to host events. Great space, great staff, great food, and great cocktails.

In terms of the events themselves, at both, Bae will be read a bit from all four of her translated books and will answer a series of questions about her craft and influences. I’ve already scripted the questions, so I can say with certainty that she’ll talk a bit about how she got her start—and the Korean literary scene in general—the impact of German literature (she’s translated Kafka, Sebald, Erpenbeck, and others into Korean) on her style and literary approach, the way she creates a landscape of consciousness in her books, and much more.

One of South Korea’s most highly acclaimed writers, Bae Suah is the author of five novels and more than ten short story collections, and has received both the Hanguk Ilbo and Tongseo literary prizes. Nowhere to Be Found, translated by Sora Kim-Russell, was longlisted for the PEN Translation Prize and the Best Translated Book Award. Translations of her works have been widely praised for their beauty and precision, with Sophie Hughes summing it up wonderfully for Music & Literature:

The experience of reading the prize-winning Korean-born writer Bae Suah is simultaneously uncanny, estranting, and spellbinding, an effect that becomes perceptible the more you read . . . Bae Suah offers the chance to unknow—to see the every-day afresh and be defamiliarized with what we believe we know—which is no small offering.

So, if you’re in Rochester, you should definitely come out to one or both of these, and even if you’re not here, you should check out one of her books. Here’s the full info on the three that are already available:

Recitation (Translated by Deborah Smith)

The meeting between a group of emigrants and a mysterious, wandering actress in an empty train station sets the stage for Bae Suah’s fragmentary yet lyrical meditation on language, travel, and memory. As the actress recounts the fascinating story of her stateless existence, an unreliable narrator and the interruptions of her audience challenge traditional notions of storytelling and identity.

A Greater Music (Translated by Deborah Smith)

Near the beginning of A Greater Music, the narrator, a young Korean writer, falls into an icy river in the Berlin suburbs, where she’s been house-sitting for her on-off boyfriend Joachim. This sets into motion a series of memories that move between the hazily defined present and the period three years ago when she first lived in Berlin. Throughout, the narrator’s relationship with Joachim, a rough-and-ready metalworker, is contrasted with her friendship with M, an ultra-refined music-loving German teacher who was once her lover.

Nowhere to Be Found (Translated by Sora Kim-Russell)

A nameless narrator passes through her life, searching for meaning and connection in experiences she barely feels. For her, time and identity blur, and all action is reaction. She can’t quite understand what motivates others to take life seriously enough to focus on anything—for her existence is a loosely woven tapestry of fleeting concepts. From losing her virginity to mindless jobs and a splintered, unsupportive family, the lessons learned have less to do with the reality we all share and more to do with the truth of the imagination, which is where the narrator focuses to discover herself.

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