Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Times Literary Supplement: Review of The Soil, by Yi Kwang-su - Translated by Sun-Ae Hwang and Horace Jeffery Hodges

Professor Mark Morris (University of Cambridge) recently published a brief review, "Resting Against the Sunlight: South Korean Fiction Comes in from the Cold," in The Times Literary Supplement (April 18, 2014) of the translation my wife and I did of Yi Kwang-su's novel The Soil within a broader review of seven stories from the entire ten-volume series of Korean literature supported by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea and published by Dalkey Archive Press:
Park Wan-suh, Lonesome You; Translated by Elizabeth Haejin Yoon.
Yi Kwang-su, The Soil; Translated by Hwang Sun-Ae and Horace Jeffrey Hodges.
Kim Joo-young, Stingray; Translated by Inrae You Vinciguerra and Louis Vinciguerra.
Li Ki-ho, At Least We Can Apologize; Translated by Christopher Joseph Dykas.
Jang Eun-jin, No One Writes Back; Translated by Jung Yewon.
Jang Jung-il, When Adam Opens His Eyes; Translated by Hwang Sun-Ae and Horace Jeffrey Hodges.
Jung Young Moon, A Most Ambiguous Sunday and Other Stories; Translated by Jung Young Moon et al [The "et al" are Yewon Jung, Inrae You Vinciguerra, and Louis Vinciguerra].
Alert readers will note that my middle name, "Jeffery," was misspelled. I also noted it and figured that I ought at least dispel the 'mispel' amd have it be corrected online, so I wrote to the reviewer, Professor Morris, and explained the problem. He regretted the misspelling, adding that one of the editors was likely responsible, and he told me whom to contact. He also added some kind words about the translation by my wife and me:
You two have done heroic work to bring the book to life in English, not falsely up-dating the style of language, trusting your readers to check background/contextual info rather than inserting clunky detail, etc. I just wish TLS had allowed me more than a handful of words to cover the translation.
That was nice to hear. Anyway, I contacted the editor suggested by Professor Morris. The editor also regretted the mistake, corrected the misspelling, and sent me the entire review, from which I excerpt the following:
There are now . . . signs that South Korean fiction may finally make a dent in the consciousness of British readers. Last week the London Book Fair devoted its "Market Focus" to a range of Korean publishers. Since February London's Korean Cultural Centre has been hosting monthly literature nights. And then there is the new partnership between South Korea's well-funded Korean Literature Translation Institute and Dalkey Archive Press. A series of twenty-five books has been agreed -- The Library of Korean Literature -- covering prose fiction from the colonial era until the present day.

The oldest and weightiest in content of the series so far is Yi Kwangsu's The Soil. First serialized in a newspaper between 1932 and 1933, the long, sprawling narrative is one of the classics of colonial East Asian literature. Its author first made his mark as a writer in 1917 with the novel Heartless, set during the Japanese occupation of Korea, which had begun seven years before. Like The Soil, it is concerned with Korea's diminished status as a colony. The protagonist of The Soil is Heo Sung, a poor but bright young man who migrates from the countryside to Seoul -- known then as Keij├┤ to the conquerors and Gyeongseong to the new "natives". He becomes first a live-in tutor, then a member of a wealthy aristocratic household. Sung clings to the memory of the girl he left behind, but falls under the spell of Jeong-seon, the beautiful daughter of his patron, Mr Yun. When Yun offers Sung his daughter's hand, the young man executes an intellectual and moral somersault to persuade himself to accept. The result is disastrous for all concerned.

The novel contains a cast of minor characters who seem to function more as colonial types than clearly delineated individuals. There is the upper-class playboy who schemes for a soft job in the colonial hierarchy while seducing his friend Sung's wife for the sport of it; the young female intellectuals with new ideals but few viable independent means; the mentor who seeks to convert university students to the cause of liberation for their captive country; the handsome intellectual who returns from America with a PhD, only to find that it is of little use. The answer to this urban malaise is offered in the title. Eventually, Sung and his adulterous wife yield to the pull of the land. Gazing from the window of a train, Sung "felt the sunlight filling the sky and the life-giving power of the earth were there especially for the farmers". And yet the "paddies no longer belonged to their clans. They were all nowadays the property of a company, a bank, a co-operative, or a farm". The later chapters dealing with Sung's return to the countryside contain scenes of power and lyricism. But the idealism shared by the author and protagonist -- "I'll see how much can be improved without changing the social structure" -- is embedded in contradiction, the unconvincing happy ending a case of wishful thinking.
Morris then notes that one of Park Wan-suh's stories refers to Yi Kwang-su's influence and mixed legacy:
In . . . [one] of Park Wan-suh's stories from Lonesome You, "That Girl's House", Man-deuk is the village intellectual who, back in the colonial days, got others interested in Yi Kwang-su: novels such as Heartless and The Soil "circulated among young people and were read until the pages became tattered". Among the ten stories gathered in the collection [by Park], this is the only one that looks back with any sense of nostalgia; it reminds us how passionately readers once engaged with Yi's fiction -- writing that now looks creaky and old-fashioned, and tainted by Yi's eventual collaboration in Japan's war effort.
I infer that by "not falsely up-dating the style of language," my wife and I successfully preserved Yi Kwang-su's "writing that now looks creaky and old-fashioned." I suppose that's a compliment. Anyway, Morris says nothing negative about our work, so I'll take that as a positive!

And if Yi Kwang-su's modern classic is too long, there's this other 'classic' of a man lost in our postmodern world . . .

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At 6:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kudos to you and the missus.


At 6:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sonagi!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff?

I can recall precisely when I first happened onto this here blog of yours and from that moment to this there's been you, "you/he/she/somebody, you've spelt my name wrong!"

Might I make a suggestion?

Doctor H.J. Hodges Pee Aytch Dee. Get a nametag made up real shiny-like, maybe something in titanium oh about the size of a tee-shirt pocket. Oh and a lab coat. Maybe switch out whatever you call that sort of thing you wear on your head for a regular hillbilly type ballcap better yet a sombrero fitted with LEDs or maybe neon tubes (in blue bandwidth) fashioned in the same 'Doctor H.J. Hodges Pee Aytch Dee.'

Put all that gear on. The neonized sombrero the titanium name labelled lab coat and get some helper from your school's Engineering Department to rig a Tesla Field generator set-up and a rubber pad for you to stand on while you get your picture took.

Send the resulting picture (in digital form) JPEG maybe to Malcolm with the "keys" to this here blog instructing Malcolm to create a full-screen portal opening replacing your current and confusing "Gypsy Scholar" image presently adorning your blog with the new Tesla Field JPEG - I'm figuring with all your hip adornment stuff on while standing in a Tesla Field, it might appear whatever hair you got left shoots out stuff resembling lightning bolts or something.

Then and lastly, while Malcolm's still at the controls have him manipulate it so all your Please prove you're not a robot makes people type the text, "Doctor H.J. Hodges Pee Aytch Dee" (without the quotes of course).


At 9:41 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I believe you, JK, when you say that this would work -- nobody would ever again forget my name!

But I might then want them to . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Charles Montgomery said...

So this is serialized across the time Yi is STILL as Korean patriot, or is he already turning collaborator.

I was gonna grab this from my bookshelf for a trip to Busan and back (seemed about thick enough^^), but spaced on it...

At 1:19 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yi's passage in The Soil admiring the Japanese military suggests that he was already turning toward support of Japan, but it's not conclusive.

I don't know enough about his life to date his collaboration precisely.

Jeffery Hodges

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