It’s been roughly 6 months now since I ventured into the giant rabbit hole that is Korean and Asian fiction in general. I happily report that I plan to stay in the said hole for the foreseeable future. This January, I am taking part in “Japan in January” hosted by the lovely Lauren (End.Notes on instagram) and I am rather enjoying myself. Next month, I plan to read a huge amount of Korean books. Life is good, life is good.
Instagram is truly a wonderful social media platform for readers. By using hashtags to label pictures of books you allow other readers with similar interests to find you and thus recommend books to you. I love this aspect of social media so much and thus any thought of going offline and deleting all the apps are usually short-lived. It was through such a recommendation, that I came across the Yeoyu collection published by Stranger Press and as luck would have it, the Husband asked me the same day if there are any books I specifically want for Christmas. So naturally, this is what I asked for.
This may take the element of surprise out of gifts (although I still had a couple of surprises) but it ensures that I get something I want. Win-win. And yes, I read them all already. What I liked about the stories is that they introduced me not just to Korean authors, but also to translators of Korean. I read work translated by Deborah Smith before and I have already Emily Yae Won’s translation of “I’ll go on” by Hwang Jungeun (who also had a story in this collection) waiting for me.
You could say this type of collection works almost like a business card, a “nice to meet you, now I shall remember you, maybe we can have a coffee some time.” A few of the authors have no other work translated as of yet (Cheon Heerahn and Kang Hwagil) – or at least as far as I could find out – but all the others are available with other works. Most notable Bae Suah’s new novel “Untold Day and Night” is getting some great advance press and I, for one, cannot wait to get my fingers on a copy.
The set comes with 8 titles, you can buy individually, but who would do such a thing?
These are the titles
EUROPA by Han Kang // translated Deborah Smith
FIVE PRELUDES… by Cheon Heerahn // translated Emily Yae Won
LEFT’S RIGHT… by Han Yujoo // translated Janet Hong
MILENA, MILENA… by Bae Suah // translated Deborah Smith
OLD WRESTLER by Jeon Sungtae // translated Sora Kim-Russell
KONG’S GARDEN by Hwang Jungeun // translated Jeon Seung-Hee
DEMONS by Kang Hwagil // translated Mattho Mandersloot
DIVORCE by Kim Soom // translated Emily Yae Won
I love the production value of them a lot and I know that is not what counts or should count, but I appreciated that they reminded me of the zines of my teenage years in the 80ies. They are lovely to hold and read which definitely makes me happy. It is the content, however, that matters and here the collection absolutely convinced me: It was just wonderful. There was not a single story that I hated. The Old Wrestler is probably the one I liked the least, but I still liked it a lot. On the other end of the spectrum was Divorce and Five Preludes and a Fugue, which I loved so much that I cannot stop thinking about them. In particular, I admire the ease of the translation in Five Preludes so much, sheer brilliance.
I also think that in general publishers should always provide information about each translator in each translated book, some already do, but often we have no information at all, especially for older works when books are republished. When I like a translator, I want to read more by them, in many ways this is no different than finding an audio narrator you like: Yes, you are here for the novel written by the author, but it is the voice of the narrator that pulls you in just as much and any lover of audiobooks will know how a bad narrator can utterly destroy an otherwise brilliant book. With audiobooks, we have the option to pick up the print version, however, with a translation we are totally at the mercy of the translator: their voice is the one we hear and that either works for us or not.
I have already asked The Husband to get me the Japanese collection for my birthday in May… if I can wait that long. Stay tuned.