9 April 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Chris Iacono on Sun-mi Hwang’s The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, translated by Chi-Young Kim, and out last fall from Penguin.

This is a review I’ve been sitting on a while and I apologize for that—but after a quick trip to NYC for a fantastic evening with Bulgarian authors and their readers at 192 Books, and before a whirlwind of Greek, Danish-Bulgarian, and Latin American events, looking back on this title was a nice, relaxing place to stop at mid-week. A little fable-esque, a little social commentary, a little simple and charming illustration: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a great read and chock-full of talking animals.

Here’s the beginning of Chris’s review:

Early in Sun-mi Hwang’s novel The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, the main character, a hen named Sprout, learns about sacrifice. After refusing to lay any more eggs for the farmer who owns her, she becomes “culled” and released from her chicken coop. However, she soon discovers that her new freedom comes with a loss of comforts such as shelter and food. To make matters worse, after she narrowly escapes from a menacing weasel in an open grave, the other farmyard animals, led by an arrogant rooster, reject her. “Culled?” he says. “Nobody wants you!”

Despite the harsh reality that Sprout has to face outside the coop, she doesn’t have to face it alone. While in the open grave, she meets Straggler, a mallard duck who also lives on the farm. Like Sprout, Straggler is a misfit, a wild duck among domesticated ones. He is allowed to stay on the farm, but he keeps his distance from the other ducks. Even though he isn’t able to convince the other animals to let Sprout stay on the farm, he is able to help her fulfill one wish: To sit on an egg and watch a baby hatch from it.

One day, while wandering the fields, she finds this egg and decides to sit on it until the mother returns. The mother never does, but when Straggler finds her, he agrees to stand guard while Sprout is brooding. The hen, of course, thinks this baby will be a chick. She also believes Straggler is under the mistaken impression that she laid the egg, but he really knows more about it than she realizes. In fact, before he meets a tragic end, he gives her advice on what to do with the hatchling.

For the rest of the review, go here.

9 April 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Early in Sun-mi Hwang’s novel The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, the main character, a hen named Sprout, learns about sacrifice. After refusing to lay any more eggs for the farmer who owns her, she becomes “culled” and released from her chicken coop. However, she soon discovers that her new freedom comes with a loss of comforts such as shelter and food. To make matters worse, after she narrowly escapes from a menacing weasel in an open grave, the other farmyard animals, led by an arrogant rooster, reject her. “Culled?” he says. “Nobody wants you!”

Despite the harsh reality that Sprout has to face outside the coop, she doesn’t have to face it alone. While in the open grave, she meets Straggler, a mallard duck who also lives on the farm. Like Sprout, Straggler is a misfit, a wild duck among domesticated ones. He is allowed to stay on the farm, but he keeps his distance from the other ducks. Even though he isn’t able to convince the other animals to let Sprout stay on the farm, he is able to help her fulfill one wish: To sit on an egg and watch a baby hatch from it.

One day, while wandering the fields, she finds this egg and decides to sit on it until the mother returns. The mother never does, but when Straggler finds her, he agrees to stand guard while Sprout is brooding. The hen, of course, thinks this baby will be a chick. She also believes Straggler is under the mistaken impression that she laid the egg, but he really knows more about it than she realizes. In fact, before he meets a tragic end, he gives her advice on what to do with the hatchling.

Soon after the birth of Baby (as he is known in the novel’s earlier chapters), Sprout takes him back to the farm, where she learns that the chick is actually a duckling. As a result of this discovery, she endures further humiliation. “It’s a disgrace to the comb!” the rooster tells Sprout. “A ridiculous hen has made our kind the laughingstock of the barn.” Even the guard dog, who is intimidated by the rooster and his hen, taunts Sprout. “A chicken hatching a duck!” he says. “What a ridiculous sight!”

However, Sprout doesn’t let the other animals’ insults affect her this time.

Sprout’s thoughts were jumbled, but she was anything but ashamed. She had hatched her egg with all her being. She had wished for him to be born. She’d loved him from when he was inside the egg. She was never suspicious about what was inside. Sure, he’s a duck, not a chick. Who cares? He still knows I’m his mom!

Not only does this scene show Sprout’s determination to raise Baby in the face of hostility, but it also exhibits the strong bond that has already developed between the hen and the duckling.

However, as the story progresses, this bond is tested on more than one occasion. After Sprout and Baby move to the reservoir, the leader of the farmyard ducks tries several times to convince the hen to give up the duckling. This leader feels that if Baby doesn’t grow up as a domesticated duck with clipped wings, he will experience the same fate as Straggler. Sprout refuses to let Baby go, but as the duckling learns by himself how to swim and catch fish, they both begin to realize how different they really are.

These differences threaten their happiness in the novel’s later chapters, when Sprout starts calling the adolescent duck Greentop. “It did break Sprout’s heart to see Greentop with a brooding expression on his face. He had become moody from time to time after the leader had visited them in the reeds. These episodes recurred after his feathers changed color. Sprout asked him what was wrong, but he wouldn’t confide in her.” He finally tells her that he wants to join the brace of ducks at the farm. While this hurts Sprout, she allows it for the sake of his happiness. Although his brief return to the farm turns out to be a disaster, Greentop eventually becomes a strong, confident duck that makes her proud.

Meanwhile, Sprout and Greentop have to constantly move to avoid the relentless weasel. They are especially vulnerable because they lack the shelter of the farmyard and have to make their homes in reeds, rice paddies, and caves. Despite living on the run, though, mother and child become braver over time; at one point, Sprout even defends herself against the weasel’s attacks. Later, in the story’s climax, Sprout shows the weasel just how far a mother will go to take care of her children.

Although The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is heartbreaking at times, readers cannot help but admire Sprout’s strength and courage as she not only makes her wish come true, but as she honors the memory of her friend Straggler and helps Greentop fulfill his destiny. The sparse illustrations by Nomoco offer an elegant accompaniment to the story. However, it’s the combination of simple prose, beautifully translated by Chi-Young Kim, and colorful characters that really makes this novel an unforgettable experience. In conclusion, Sun-mi Hwang’s fable is a celebration of freedom and motherhood that both teenagers and adults will probably want to read more than once.

2 September 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I wasn’t previously familiar with this blog, but New Yorker In Seoul looks like a really interesting place to learn about Korean culture. The other day, Patricia Park—the site’s curator and former Columbia University Press editorial intern—published “this interview” with Jennifer Crewe, Associate Director and Editorial Director at Columbia University Press.

So, back to this interview: when I was studying at the Korean Literature Translation Institute, every major Korean literature work that was published into English was, basically, published by CUP. (Had I known this as that wee intern, I would have pilfered our office library.) It’s funny how things in your life sometimes come round full circle, so I’m especially chuffed to be posting this interview with Jennifer, the editor behind many of these titles. This interview would be particularly relevant to you literature translation folks who wish to gain a glimpse of what the industry is like and how the whole editorial process works. [. . .]

Take this as an opportunity to brag a bit. What were some of your award-winning, best-selling projects? Your personal favorite projects? Upcoming titles you’re excited about?

None of these books has been a best-seller, I’m sorry to say! But they are all well-known among the community of scholars of modern Korean literature in North America. The novel that has sold the most copies in English is Cho’e Yun’s There a Petal Silently Falls. The author came to the US to do some readings and that certainly helped get the word out. [. . .]

The media—both in Korea and stateside—can’t stop talking about the recent success of Shin Kyung-sook’s bestselling novel Please Look After Mom. Do you have thoughts on how this book became such a huge success, and how that success might impact the future of Korean literature in the US market?

As far as I know Please Look After Mom is the first Korean novel to hit the English-speaking mainstream readership.I’m sorry I didn’t know about it before it was translated! However trade publishers are looking for bestsellers and because the book did so well in Korea it obviously caught the eye of an editor here. I think the success had a lot to do with the subject matter of the novel. Everyone feels to a certain extent guilty about not caring for their parents enough! I hope it bodes well for further translations of Korean fiction.

Your thoughts on publishing North Korean literature?

I am very interested in publishing North Korean literature. The problem is that we need funding to publish translations of Korean literature, and the funding agencies are usually government-sponsored ones in South Korea, and they obviously have no interest in funding translations of writers from the North.

26 February 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over the next six days, we’ll be featuring each of the ten titles from this year’s Best Translated Book Award poetry shortlist. Click here for all past write-ups.



Scale and Stairs by Heeduk Ra. Translated from the Korean by Woo-Chung Kim and Christopher Merrill. (Korea, White Pine Press)

This guest post is by Kevin Prufer, whose newest books are National Anthem (Four Way Books, 2008) and Little Paper Sacrifice (Four Way Books, forthcoming). He’s also Editor of New European Poets (Graywolf Press, 2008) and Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing.

The speakers in these carefully crafted poems are, first of all, keen and imaginative observers. One sits in a cafeteria watching a workman eat boiled rice until the grains “carried by the chapped hand / . . . gather and scatter like clouds between the blistered lips.” Another stands outside at night observing the moon, telling us how “I turned around / and caught her furtive eye, her soiled feet. / Blushing, as if she were being watched, she hid behind a cloud / and reappeared in the distance.” A third narrator stands in a hospital corridor listening to the agony of the others, “a judge of cries,” teasing stories out of pain. “Every cry is singular,” she tells us,

            like a bird’s feather,
so that even without touching the trembling shoulder
you can tell if the crier has just learned the name of his disease,
or if he has been sentenced to death,
or if he weeps over a cold body.

Heeduk Ra’s poems, set in Korea’s cities (a hospital elevator, a church’s back stairway) and natural landscapes (where graves become boats and falling snow becomes feathers, flowers, rice), are filled with intricate detail, surprising turns, and moments of sadness, transcendence and breathtaking grace. Here, the daily minutia of Korean life are rich with imagery, reflecting not just their own details, but the brilliant and unpredictable mind that would tell us about them and, in so doing, imbue them with deeply personal turns of phrase and sharp, often witty, metaphors.

In one of the book’s most lovely poems, the speaker contemplates renting a room, finding in the mundane task a deep connection with Korea’s history and the lives of others:

To rent a room in Damyang or Changpyung,
to visit it like a chipmunk,
I looked in every village I came across.
Walking past a place in Jasil,
I saw common flowers in the yard
between the traditional Korean house and a modern annex.
When I entered through the open gate,
a man was sharpening his scythe on the grindstone
and his wife’s scarf was wet, as if she had just returned from the fields.
“Excuse me, I wonder if I could rent a room.
I’ll stay here two or three nights a week.”
When I pointed at the traditional house
she smiled. “Well, our children moved to Seoul,
so we live in the annex. Yes, the main house
is unoccupied, but we hold it in our hearts.
Our family history lies there.”
Listening to her, I saw the clean wooden floor
on which lay day’s last light.
I didn’t press for the room, I left,
wondering if the couple knew
that I’d already rented it, was living in their words—
that in their hearts they lived in the vacant house.

Heeduk Ra, born in Nonsan in 1966, is widely regarded as one of Korea’s preeminent younger poets. Woo Chung-Kim and Christopher Merrill’s plainspoken, moving translation makes it clear why. Distinguished for their graceful sensibility, rich imagery, and subtle intelligence, these poems will hopefully bring a wide English language readership to this valuable poet.

21 May 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Tim Nassau is interning at Open Letter over the summer, researching books we should have translated and writing some posts for the blog, such as the one below that gives a brief overview of a few interesting Korean authors.

The Korea Literature Translation Institute has the expressed goal “of contributing to global culture by spreading Korean literature and culture abroad,” and to that end, has produced some wonderful publications to introduce non-Korean readers to Korean authors. (CWP Note: And this page of statistics. It’s a cultural org after my number-loving heart!) I flipped through their guide on contemporary Korean novelists and uncovered a few authors that sound really interesting. Of course, most of their works are not yet available in English (though two of Yi Mun-yol’s books have been published), but hopefully will be translated soon!

My friend Teresa called Kyung-ni Park, who just died in 2008, “probably the most revered author in Korea.” The author of over ten books, she is most well known for Toji [The Land], a five part, multi-volume epic that took 25 years to complete (and takes about as long to read). The novel follows four generations of a family from the Joseon Dynasty to Korea’s liberation from Japan, showing personal change in the midst of cataclysmic societal upheaval. Unfortunately, the dozens of dialects present in the book would make it a challenge to translate, but this hasn’t deterred the French . . .

Another author fond of long yarns is Choi In-hun. Known for great historical and philosophical range, his autobiographical novel Hwadu [A Topic for Contemplation] spans two volumes and more than a thousand pages. Perhaps less ambitious, but more attention-grabbing, is Gwangjang [The Square]. Compared to Kyung-ni Park’s Sijang-gwa Jeonjang [The Market and the Battlefield] due to their objective perspectives of war, the work follows a Korean student of philosophy caught between the North and the South their conflict erupts in the 1950s. Unable to feel at home in either, he decides to flee both, but even abroad cannot escape the twin specters of capitalism and communism.

Eun Hee-kyung’s body of works offers a helpful formula for any aspiring author: sophisticated cynicism + light, humorous prose = illumination. Concerned with the everyday minutiae that prevent true human communication, her first novel, Sae-ui Seonmul [A Gift from a Bird], tells the story of a twelve-year old girl whose mother killed herself during the war. With the freedom and precociousness of a child, she exposes the absurd falsehoods from which the oblivious adults around her create their lives. (And, like the protagonist of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, is probably ten times smarter than anyone you knew at that age.)

Though one might expect a diet version of Children of Men, Yi Mun-yol’s Saram-ui Adeul [Son of Man] bears a resemblance to the science-fiction novel in name only. Rather, it is compared to Dostoyevski’s works, in terms of plot and themes. Min Yo-seop is a seminary student grown skeptical of God. He declares Jesus a “false son of man” and seeks to create instead the “true son of man.” When he tries to return to Christianity, however, he winds up murdered, and detective Nam is put on the case. Yi Mun-yol’s first critically successful work contrasts heaven and earth, or a search for spiritual salvation versus a life free of morals dictated only by human concerns.

These four novels and authors are but a sampling of what’s out there. Dwight D. Eisenhower said “I shall make that trip. I shall go to Korea.” He should have brought back more books.

2 July 07 | Chad W. Post |

The Korea Literature Translation Institute just announced its plans to produce the country’s first ever English-language anthology of modern Korean literature. Which is great news, even if the book won’t be available until 2009 . . . Sound ambitious though:

The project will come in 10 volumes, featuring poetry, novels and dramas published since 1919. The books will be published by a major U.S.-based company.

[. . .]

A KLTI official said the anthology will feature not only original texts translated into English but also literary notes about the authors and works so that foreign colleges will adopt the anthology as Korean literature textbooks. The institute is said to be considering asking Columbia University or Norton to take on the publishing to shore up the overall quality of the anthology.

....
The Antiquarian
The Antiquarian by Gustavo Faverón Patriau
Reviewed by P.T. Smith

Gustavo Faverón Patriau’s The Antiquarian, translated by Joseph Mulligan, is a genre-blending novel, a complete immersion that delves into a lesser-used niche of genre: horror, gothic, the weird. There are visual horrors, psychological ones, and dark corners with threats lurking.. . .

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Elsewhere
Elsewhere by Eliot Weingerber (ed.)
Reviewed by Grant Barber

What a wonderful, idiosyncratic book Weinberger has written. I say book, but the closest comparison I could make to other works being published right now are from Sylph Edition’s “Cahiers Series“—short pamphlet-like meditations by notable writers such as Ann Carson,. . .

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The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang
Reviewed by Chris Iacono

Early in Sun-mi Hwang’s novel The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, the main character, a hen named Sprout, learns about sacrifice. After refusing to lay any more eggs for the farmer who owns her, she becomes “culled” and released. . .

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Sankya
Sankya by Zakhar Prilepin
Reviewed by Kseniya Melnik

When Sankya was published in Russia in 2006, it became a sensation. It won the Yasnaya Polyana Award (bestowed by direct descendants of Leo Tolstoy) and was shortlisted for the Russian Booker and the National Bestseller Award. Every member of. . .

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Stalin is Dead
Stalin is Dead by Rachel Shihor
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Stalin is Dead by Rachel Shihor has been repeatedly described as kafkaesque, which strikes a chord in many individuals, causing them to run to the bookstore in the middle of the night to be consumed by surreal situations that no. . .

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Paradises
Paradises by Iosi Havilio
Reviewed by Andrea Reece

Paradises by cult Argentinian author Iosi Havilio is the continuation of his earlier novel, Open Door, and tells the story of our narrator, a young, unnamed Argentinian woman.

The very first sentence in Paradises echoes the opening of Camus’s The Outsider. . .

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Two Crocodiles
Two Crocodiles by Fyodor Dostoevsky; Felisberto Hernández
Reviewed by Sara Shuman

This pearl from New Directions contains one short story from Russian literary master Fyodor Dostoevsky (translated by Constance Garnett) and one short story from Uruguayan forefather of magical realism Felisberto Hernández (translated by Esther Allen). Both pieces are entitled “The. . .

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