Tag Archives: Deborah Smith

The Psychogeography of Grief

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Writing for The Guardian, Deborah Levy has some very nice things to say about the new book on the cusp of international release in English from the award-winning author of The Vegetarian in a piece titled “The White Book by Han Kang review – the fragility of life.”

Han Kang is the South Korean author who shot to worldwide literary fame when her book about a non-meat eater won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016. It also earned its translator, @londonkoreanist (aka Deborah Smith), heaps and heaps of praise for her artistic and articulate translation.

As Ms. Levy contends, Han Kang has maintained her poise as a skilled, humanistic author in The White Book (“흰” in Korean) – a “fragmented autobiographical meditation on the death of the unnamed narrator’s baby sister, who died two hours after her birth” – through “writing [that] edges close to becoming a brilliant psychogeography of grief, moving as it does between place, history and memory.”

For her own part, Deborah Smith has kept up with what is purported to be another excellent translation, like this poignant excerpt from The White Book:

“I wanted to show you clean things. Before brutality, sadness, despair, filth, pain, clean things that were only for you, clean things above all. But it didn’t come off as I intended. Again and again I peered into your eyes, as though searching for form in a deep, black mirror.”

The review ends by saying “If Han’s monotone is relentlessly poised and never flinches from serene dignity, perhaps it could not be written in any other way…The White Book is a mysterious text, perhaps in part a secular prayer book…[that] succeeds in reflecting Han’s urgent desire to transcend pain with language.

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The Art of Translation

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How much freedom does a translator have when sculpting a literary work into another language?

That seems to be the burning question recently behind Deborah Smith’s “brilliant but flawed translation” of Han Kang’s Man Booker International  Prize-winning novel, The Vegetarian. Writing for The Los Angeles Times, Charse Yun’s article “How the Bestseller ‘The Vegetarian,’ Translated from Han Kang’s Original, Caused an Uproar in South Korea” points out how pundits are now revealing glaring errors, omissions and flat-out additions to Han Kang’s original Korean manuscript.

Justified? Necessary? Helpful for the average English reader?

Yes, says I.

If you’re familiar with older translations of Korean novels, then you’re also familiar with the all-too-familiar feeling of your eyes being gouged out by the words on the page; they’re unnatural, inconsistent, misleading, and confusing much of the time. The result is a hackneyed version of what is purported to be, in its original Korean version, “great” or “incredible” or “fantastic.”

For a closer look at the challenges faced by translators, check out this insightful look into the world of translating Japanese literature into English, specifically the works of Murakami Haruki. The three participants in this email “roundtable” were Philip Gabriel, Murakami translator and professor of Japanese literature at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Jay Rubin, Murakami translator and professor of Japanese literature at Harvard University, and Gary Fisketjon, an editor at Alfred A. Knopf.

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