Meeting Ch'oe Yun
On Friday evening, I attended the Daesan Foundation's annual literary awards ceremony because I had acted as one of the judges for the best recent English translation of Korean literature. This might sound surprising to those who know me since they also know how dreadful my Korean is. I am also surprised. I can only surmise that the generous Daesan people wanted my participation on the committee of judges as a literary critic who is also a native speaker of English.
At any rate, I was a judge (제프리 하지스) and was given the enjoyable opportunity to read about ten volumes of mostly fine Korean writing in English translation. Selecting a best volume was not easy, but I think that the right choice was made in awarding the Daesan Literary Award for Translation to Bruce Fulton and Ju-Chan Fulton for their translation of Ch'oe Yun's volume of three stories, There a Petal Silently Falls. This volume is published by Columbia University Press, which well describes its contents:
In this collection's title work, There a Petal Silently Falls, Ch'oe explores both the genesis and the aftershocks of historical outrages such as the Kwangju Massacre of 1980, in which a reported 2,000 civilians were killed for protesting government military rule. The novella follows the wanderings of a girl traumatized by her mother's murder and strikes home the injustice of state-sanctioned violence against men and especially women. "Whisper Yet" illuminates the harsh treatment of leftist intellectuals during the years of national division, at the same time offering the hope of reconciliation between ideological enemies. The third story, "The Thirteen-Scent Flower," satirizes consumerism and academic rivalries by focusing on a young man and woman who engender an exotic flower that is coveted far and wide for its various fragrances.Despite my ardent appreciation of these well-written and well-translated stories, I committed the faux pas of failing to recognize the author herself although she was seated beside me at dinner during the awards ceremony. Actually, my failure is not so surprising in itself. I had never seen a photograph of Ch'oe Yun. The actual false step was in failing to recognize her name when we exchanged cards:
"Only two names?" I remarked. "That's unusual for a Korean. Koreans usually have three, don't they?"The forgiving Ms. Yun and I then had a most interesting conversation, which I probably shouldn't detail here since she is somewhat of a public figure, and our talk was likely considered off the record. Suffice it to say that we spoke of our years in Europe and the changes that we've seen wrought there by immigration and multiculturalism, particularly the widespread disappearance of Christianity's cultural influence in much of Europe.
"It's a pen name," she explained.
"Oh," I said. "What have you written?"
"The translation of my book," she explained, smiling, "was awarded this year's literary prize."
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "That's you! I was one of the judges."
"Did you like the book?" she asked, still smiling.
"Very much," I assured her.
More important, anyway, is her writing, so here are the opening lines -- translated by the Fultons -- from There a Petal Silently Falls:
As you pass by the grave sites scattered throughout the city, you may encounter her, a girl whose maroon velvet dress barely covers her, a girl who lingers near the burial mounds. Please don't stop if she approaches you, and don't look back once she's passed you by. If your eye should be drawn to the flesh showing between the folds of that torn soiled dress, or drawn to something resembling a wound, walk away with downcast eyes as if you hadn't seen a thing.If that interests you -- and I do quite like it -- then read more at what the Google Books site offers. With respect to this translation, I should note that I also met the translators, Bruce Fulton and Ju-Chan Fulton, but had little chance to speak with them, as they sat at a different table, though I did manage to express my admiration for their work, which was outstanding.
But you can see for yourself . . .