Boundaries are the places of communication: Kim Young-ha on Korean literature

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'Despite exporting food, film, advanced gadgetry, and dance music with unprecedented fervor and pride, South Korea has still produced curiously little in the way of an international literature.' So begins the LA Review of Books review of the works of Kim Young-ha, one of South Korea’s leading fiction writers.

It's an issue that Kim himself is constantly preoccupied with. His feeling is that Western stereotypes about Korea negatively influence the choice of books that are translated into English. In a recent article for Words Without Borders, he writes:

Korea still brings to mind words like war, division, nuclear North Korea, and the Great Leader Kim Jong-il. In literature, as well, the first works to be translated were those that included such themes... And as is the case with any country’s serious literature, Korean writers are fighting these stereotypes and working to create their own world.

Kim works towards this end through his journalism as well as his fiction: his series of articles for the New York Times offer perceptive insights into life in modern Korea. He traces his interest in intercultural engagement back to a nomadic childhood:

'Kim often introduces himself as a man without a hometown. Because his father was in the military, Kim switched schools once a year and learned the new rules of the game every time. His childhood experience of migration was perhaps a fate dealt to him; Kim Young-ha, the novelist, in turn, desires the experience of diaspora and blends it into his writing. His novels incessantly travel across the boundaries between reality and fantasy, desire and death, consciousness and body, fiction and media, Korea and foreign countries. To Kim, boundaries are the places of communication.'

You can read more about Kim Young-ha on the British Council website: there's a profile (from which the above extract was taken), and there's also a great Q&A.

Kim Young-ha will be at the Bookshop in conversation with Daniel Hahn on 11 April. Book tickets here.

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