Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Review by Sohn JiAe of Yi Kwang-su's Novel The Soil

Library of Korean Literature
Photo from Literature Translation Institute of Korea

Sohn JiAe recently reviewed Yi Kwang-su's novel The Soil (translated by Sun-Ae and me) in an article titled "Korean literature in English #8" (, February 15, 2014), which I suppose is a functional enough title, being descriptively correct. Here's an excerpt:
The eighth part of the ten-volume Library of Korean Literature series is "The Soil" penned by Yi Kwang-su (1892-1950) . . . . [It is] a novel about the Enlightenment of farmers [and] . . . . was featured as one of the 75 Notable Translations for 2013 in the December issue of World Literature Today last year, an American monthly magazine covering international literature and culture . . . . To this day, the main reason that this work has been much read lies not just in its intriguing storyline, involving a love affair and a back-to-the-earth movement, but in the transition of a small town into a true rural community through Heo Sung's lofty spirit and strong ambition.
I'm not sure why the term "Enlightenment" is capitalized. That would usually imply 18th-century France. Anyway, Sohn included some biographical details about Yi Kwang-su:
Born in 1892 in Pyeonganbuk-do (North Pyeongan Province), now part of North Korea, Yi Kwang-su worked as a poet, literary critic, translator and independence fighter, as well as a novelist. Yi majored in philosophy at Waseda University, in Tokyo, and was active in the independence movement when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule.

He was actively involved in journalism as well, working as the chief editor at the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper and was the vice president at the Chosun Ilbo newspaper. He also brought English-language works to the domestic audience by translating them into Korean himself . . . . He wrote more than 60 novels, including "Pioneer", "His Autobiography", "The Young Sacrifice" and "Heartless", as well as numerous poems and essays.
For more details, including plot spoilers, see the review. And once again, for those interested in my own literary style, there's this novella . . .

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