Now, you can add Korean literature to a growing list of K-culture in the global arena, along with K-pop, K-drama and K-food. It is great news that South Korean novelist Han Kang received the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for her "The Vegetarian." The organizer said, "The story of a Korean woman who awakens from uneasy dreams to find herself transformed into an enigma without a key. Evocative and suggestive, "The Vegetarian" startles for the depth of its strangeness." The prize is given annually to a single literary book in English translation, with the prize money worth about $70,000 equally divided between the author and the translator.
Korean literature is no stranger to the global audience, though. Korean literary works have been increasingly popular in the global scene. Shin Kyung-sook won the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize for her "Please Look After Mom." The prestigious prize recognizes the best work of fiction by an Asian writer in English or translated into English. Shin’s novel became an instant bestseller in the United States, showing that the theme of Korean mother works not only in Korea but also abroad.
To promote Korean literary works which have strong international appeal, South Korea needs great translators, not just great writers. Excellent translation is a crucial element for the success of literary works abroad. Without Gregory Rabassa, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude" (my favorite novel) could not have touched the hearts of a global audience. Without Edward Seidensticker, Yasunari Kawabata's "Snow Country" could not have been introduced to a Western audience. Both Nobel Prize-winning novelists acknowledged the merit of their translators, even suggesting that their translation works are better than the original ones.
Translation is a difficult job. There is a well-known Italian adage: Translator, traitor. South Korea needs many competent honest 'traitors' who are bilingual and bicultural. "Only a translator who understands deeply and with love the world of the author who he is translating will be capable of betraying him when necessary," Andres Felipe Solano said at a translation seminar. It seems that the way has been paved for K-literature abroad. Now is the time to make more efforts to foster great writers and translators, so that Korean literary works can continue to prosper in the international market. "Deborah Smith's perfectly judged translation matches [the original's] uncanny blend of beauty and horror at every turn," judging panel chairman Boyd Tonkin says of the translator of Han Kang's three-part novel. Traitor or not, welcome aboard!