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Local readers no longer the only audience: Yi Mun-yeol

Sept. 22, 2011 - 19:07 By
For author Yi Mun-yeol, whose works are published abroad in several languages, using famous sayings only Koreans share or only considering Korean readers is something he can no longer afford to do.

“I am now also interested in other readers who will read my books in other languages and who I have never thought of in my earlier days as a write,” said Yi at the 5th International Translator’s Conference Thursday held at the Press Center in central Seoul.

Including Yi, eight South Korean authors, translators and foreign agents in charge of translation, promotion and publication of Korean books overseas participated in a roundtable discussion under the theme “Strategies for Korean Literature to go into the World,” as a part of the conference. 
Yi Mun-yeol speaks during the 5th International Translator’s Conference held Thursday at the Press Center in central Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

“About one third of a book is subject to change according to what nationalities I imagine as my readers. So I am pondering to what extent I should write as I used to or consider readers from outside Korea,” said Yi, the renowned novelist especially known for “Our Twisted Hero.”

Since 1989, his books have been translated into more than 15 languages and are sold in over 20 countries.

The Korea Literature Translation Institute is marking its 10th anniversary by hosting the conference titled “Korean Literature into the World: the Past 10 years and the Next Decade” from Sept. 22-23. A total of 26 distinguished writers, translators and overseas agency officials are participating in the event.

Un Hee-kyong, another author who participated in the roundtable discussion, pointed out that there was still a long way to go in terms of working with foreign agencies and translators.

“The first agency that contacted me asked if I could add two more pages of love scenes, and another said it would sign the contract right away if I write a novel on the sufferings of Korean women. Foreign reporters asked me questions like ‘What is the tension like between the North and the South?’ or ‘Are female writers free to write whatever they want in your country?’ when I was expecting questions about my book. One quizzically commented that they make it a rule not to use the same word more than twice in a sentence in their language, but I used a same word many times. But I never did. That was the translator’s work, not mine,” said Un, who does not work with an agency. Her books are translated into six languages.

“I sensed that there was a long way to go. So I just decided to focus on writing good novels, instead of thinking about readers overseas,” said Un.

Kirby Kim from WME Entertainment agency, author Lee Seung-u’s agent, mentioned that while response to Shin Kyung-sook’s “Please Look After Mom” was great, it is going to be seen like a lightning in a bottle situation until many of such successes are accumulated.

“The perfect example is the Scandinavian thriller market. Setting a brand for yourself really kicks open the door for everything that comes afterwards. Korean companies are succeeding because there was one successful electronics brand and all of a sudden there is a bunch in that area. What KLTI can do is to continue looking into a wide range of genres and look into not just works that are working here but those that might work abroad,” said Kim.

By Park Min-young  (