Korean-Lit Wave Beckons to America
The LTI Korea is making waves . . . Korea Waves:
The Library of Korean Literature's first ten titles appear this November, with the rest arriving next year. Already, the initial batch offers that bird's-eye view. A Western reader can start with The Soil, [a] . . . novel by Yi Kwang-su first published as a serial in 1932. But there's also When Adam Opens His Eyes (1990), the Jang Jung-il novel that stirred up a scandal with its explicit descriptions of straight and gay sex. (Craig Fehrman, "Korean Lit Comes to America," The American Prospect, November 13, 2013)Both were translated by my wife and me, so nothing new there, but Fehrman's synopsis of Yi Kwang-su major novel, The Heartless, was new . . . and yet familiar:
Under Japanese rule, . . . Korea's writers turned to novels and short stories, with Yi Kwang-su's The Heartless (1917) generally seen as the key book. It's a bit like Robinson Crusoe in this respect -- tough to pin down as the earliest but easy to see as a turning point. Yi belonged to a wave of thinkers and writers who'd watched their country collapse. Now they wanted to embrace Western ideas like educational reform and marrying for love.Much the same summary could also have been written of The Soil. Fehrman doesn't say what he thinks about the translation result of The Soil and When Adam Opens His Eyes, but he at least says nothing disparaging.
The Heartless dramatizes those ideas through a love triangle between a representative Korean man, a traditional woman, and a more Westernized woman. In other words, it barely dramatizes them at all, with Yi prioritizing his causes over his characters and imagery. The writers who followed chose new causes -- some calling for further change, others lamenting what had been lost -- but they joined Yi in producing a largely didactic body of literature.
For the rest of the article, which has some intriguing observations deserving of discussion, follow the link!