Tag Archives: The Vegetarian (novel)

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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North Korea’s First Novel

Is fiction from North Korea…fictitious? Apparently not. Shhhhhhhh…don’t tell Sir Lord Viceroy Douchebag Kim Jong-un that his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, and his glorious revolution may not be portrayed all that, um, you know, gloriously? Viva la revolución! Er…만세!!!

Good on Toronto’s @HouseofAnansi publishing house for securing the Canadian rights to “The first piece of fiction to come out of North Korea.” The book, called The Accusation, was written by a North Korean under the pseudonym Bandi (Korean for “firefly”) and released yesterday, March 4, in Canada. Perhaps the most frightening part of whole story is that Bandi reportedly still lives in North Korea. Gulp.

Per House of Anansi’s website, here’s a summary of Bandi and his/her novel:

In 1989, a North Korean dissident writer, known to us only by the pseudonym Bandi, began to write a series of stories about life under Kim Il-sung’s totalitarian regime. Smuggled out of North Korea and set for publication around the world in 2017, The Accusation provides a unique and shocking window into this most secretive of countries.

Bandi’s profound, deeply moving, vividly characterized stories tell of ordinary men and women facing the terrible absurdity of daily life in North Korea: a factory supervisor caught between loyalty to an old friend and loyalty to the Party; a woman struggling to feed her husband through the great famine; the staunch Party man whose actor son reveals to him the theatre that is their reality; the mother raising her child in a world where the all-pervasive propaganda is the very stuff of childhood nightmare.

The Accusation is a heartbreaking portrayal of the realities of life in North Korea. It is also a reminder that humanity can sustain hope even in the most desperate of circumstances — and that the courage of free thought has a power far beyond those who seek to suppress it.

FYI, there is both a print version ($19.95) and a digital version ($16.95) available through House of Anansi’s website. Also FYI, the translator of The Accusation is none other than Deborah Smith, the same British woman who translated Han Kang‘s Man Booker International Prize-winning novel, The Vegetarian.

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