[42nd Traslation Award] The judges’ report
This year, once again, the judges have been impressed by the many very notable translations of fiction submitted for the Awards.
Although it was surprising to see a limited amount of interest in translating poetry, overall, there were slightly fewer entries than in previous years.
This We hope that next year more people will be motivated to enter the contest. We know how many talented younger translators of Korean literature are coming out of the woodwork nowadays.
This The Grand Award in fiction has been awarded to the Jung Ye-won’s translation of “A Way of Remembrance” by Jung Young-moon because, as one of the judges put it, “The translator maintains stunning control throughout the piece . . . It is a fine translation.”
The story entails the inner monologue of a man who, after finding his lover dead beside him one morning, buries the body in a shallow grave in the garden of her house. The narrative, which could perhaps best be described as surrealist-macabre, focuses on detailed actions, interwoven with isolated memories, taking place in a space completely cut off from the outside world except for the sound of frogs croaking beyond the wall.
The translator does a particularly good job of replicating the speaker’s peculiarly long-winded and eerily dry voice that proceeds in long, concatenated sentences, full of modifiers and asides. By carefully preserving the rhythm and style of the original text, the translation is able to produce in the reader a suffocating sense of the banality and possible treachery of the speaker.
The judges were also delighted with Koh Hyo-jin’s and Charse Yun’s translations of Kim Hoon’s “Rivers and Mountains Without End” that were submitted, but had much difficulty in trying to choose one over the other.
We have therefore decided that the first commendation award should be divided equally between the two entries.
The story is a dispassionate account of a man’s actions after learning that he has terminal cancer. Delivered in a first-person voice that is devoid of emotion, the narrative instead focuses on chronicling the patient’s seemingly detached observations, which toward the end culminate in a quiet philosophical rumination.
The title of the story refers to a famous Joseon Kingdom painting by Yi In-mun, which the protagonist encounters in a museum and then remembers as he sets off on his last journey. The two translations took strikingly different approaches; one was a more faithful transfer of Kim’s austere prose into English, while the other focused on rendering the original into a more conventional, thereby more readable, style.
The differences represent the inevitable tension that exists in literary translation. In this particular case, both attempts deserved recognition for their respective accomplishments and the judges did not wish to favor one at the expense of the other.
One other entry struck the judges as worthy of an award, Patricia Park’s translation of “Hole” by Yoon Sung-hee. The plot involves a young daughter’s account of her parents’ marriage, deceptively light in tone but an ambitious attempt at re-interpreting women’s narrative as established by an earlier generation of female Korean writers.
An affectionate homage to Oh Jung-hee’s story “The Old Well,” Yoon’s updated version is comical, ironical and youthful in spirit. The prose of the original was perhaps not as challenging as that of the other award-winning entries, but the translation succeeded in capturing the subtle quirks in the narrative voice, and was enjoyable to read. We have therefore selected it for an additional commendation award.
Reluctantly, the judges deemed none of the entries in poetry remarkable enough for an award.
This was a difficult decision, because we feel Korean poetry deserves good translation and also because some of the entries were valiant efforts.
In most cases, however, there were simply too many places where the translator had clearly not understood the Korean, or had chosen not to respect what the original poem was saying. Some literal translations simply failed to produce convincing poetry in English. Others tried to imitate old-fashioned English poetic modes that sound anachronistic and precious, especially in translation. Our intent is not to discourage creativity in poetry translation. Every translated work should be able to stand on its own as a work of art. In general we feel that there is room for improvement in this year’s crop of poetry translations.
On another note, we were struck by the darkness and sense of detachment present in many of the works that were selected for translation, which perhaps reflects a common thread that runs through the works being written by Korean writers today. We did not allow ourselves to be influenced by our personal opinions of the works chosen, but were nevertheless left wondering about how we translators could contribute to introducing a wider range of Korean literature to international readers.
Finally, it is worth stressing the importance of receiving an author’s permission before starting to translate a work. This time two teams worked hard to produce translations of a story; yet only one version can hope to be published with the author’s permission. In addition, nowadays, many Korean writers have contracts with agents who control such issues as translation permissions and some other translator may already be working on the same story. It is a pity to spend a lot of time producing a translation that can never be published.
Brother Anthony is Emeritus Professor at Sogang Universit and Chair Professor at Dankook University. He is also currently President of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch; Min Eun-kyung is a Professor in the English Department, Seoul National University, and Jung Ha-yun is a Professor in the Graduate School of Interpretation and Translation, Ewha Womans University.