Dublin Writers’ Festival – The Library of Korean Literature Event


Smock Alley Theatre – 22/05/14

This event was preceded by a reception hosted by the South Korean Embassy.  Upon arrival we were presented with a stylish tote bag and ,amazingly, free copies of the two books by the South Korean authors.  Myself and my partner arrived quite early so had the unexpected pleasure of being introduced to the South Korean Ambassador to Ireland, Park Hae-yun (박 해 윤 ).  Mr. Park was very friendly and interested in why were attending the event.  We thanked him for providing us with some free books!  Interestingly Ambassador Park had previously been South Korean Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq!  His Dublin posting probably lacks the excitement of his previous positions but at least it’s safe to walk freely around the streets of Dublin.  Mr. Park highlighted the importance of The Library of Korean Literature project.  This involves the translation of some of the best contemporary Korean authors into English.  Dalkey Archive Press has published the first ten books in this series with another fifteen to follow.  I plan to read the two books I received in the next few weeks and will post reviews of them soon.  Apart from Japanese literature I haven’t read many Asian fiction books.  I have watched some excellent Korean films but know nothing about Korean literature so this is the perfect opportunity to read something completely new.

atLeastweApolog mySonsFollowing some good food and wine the event began with a short introductory speech by Ambassador Park outlining the importance of The Library of Korean Literature project in spreading Korean literature and culture to a wider audience.   There was then a short reading by each of the authors.  The two Korean authors were Jung Mi-kyung (정미경) and Lee Ki-ho (이기호) and the two Irish authors were Colin Barrett and Christine Dwyer Hickey.  The discussion was chaired by Kevin Breathnach and was in a question and answer format.  Breathnach first asked about the role of translation and translators in their work.  The four authors generally agreed that they were happy to trust their translators whilst always being available for any email queries.  Hickey noted that her books seemed to expand in some languages and shrink in others!  Barrett’s collection of stories, Young Skins, is currently being translated into Dutch and he recognised the difficulties of translating Irish colloquialisms into a foreign language.  The four authors also agreed that all writing was political even if not dealing with explicitly political themes.  Lee was also keen to point out that whilst this event was sponsored by the Korean Embassy he was a representative of Korean literature, not the Korean government.  It reflected well on the strength of Korean democracy that Lee felt confident making such a statement.

DSC_0206 DSC_0207Following the discussion the audience could ask questions.  As usual the questions were a mixed bag with some people reluctant to let go of the microphone once they go their paws on it.  Perhaps it would be more productive if people submitted questions before an event so that the more interesting ones could be answered.  One somewhat aggressive question related to the status of women in Korea (the male questioner seemed to believe that Korean women live in a state of oppression).  Jung acknowledged that in the past women hadn’t always been treated equally in Korea (as in the rest of the world) but that equal rights have been achieved  as Korea’s economy has grown.  She also noted that Korean males must perform two years military service and that this might pose questions about the equal treatment of men in Korean society.   The best question was simply, “Why do you write?”  There was a general feeling that, as writers, they felt some strange compulsion to write, there was no logical reason for their desire to put words on a page.  Writing could be extremely frustrating at times but it was ultimately satisfying.  Personally I would have been curious to know if the influence of post-colonialism and issues around the border with the North are still relevant to the Irish writers and if issues of post-colonialism (following independence from Japan) and the Korean border influence Korean writers.

Following the event there was a book signing by the authors.  Overall this was an excellent event and I look forward to exploring the world of Korean literature.

Related Links

South Korean Embassy

The Library of Korean Literature – Dalkey Archive Press page

Korean Literature – General information at asianinfo.org

Literature Translation Institute of Korea



Sport in Ireland, 1600-1840 – Quick Review


James Kelly  300px-Flag_of_Ireland.svg

Four Courts Press, 2014 (384 pages)

Book Launch, €35.95

Irish History & Politics  300px-Flag_of_Ireland.svg

I attended the launch of Sport in Ireland in the plush surroundings of the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street.  The book was introduced by Anthony Tierney from Four Courts Press and the well known football pundit, journalist, and ghost writer, Eamon Dunphy.  Dunphy’s introduction was full of warmth and good humour.  He bemoaned the increasing influence of Sky Sports in the Irish sports market and extolled the virtues of playing sport for its intrinsic value.

DSC_0200Sport in Ireland is an in-depth academic study of the various sports popular in Ireland from 1600 until just before the Great Famine.  About a third of the book is devoted to the equine sports of horse racing and hunting.  The other sports covered are blood sports (such as cockfighting, bull-baiting, and dogfighting), team sports (hurling, commons, and football), fighting sports (boxing and wrestling), and minority sports (including bowling, cricket, handball, road bowls, and athletics).  The book is illustrated with a number of black and white images as well as maps and tables.

Sport in Ireland demonstrates how sport was either sanctioned by the elite (as with horse racing) or else viewed as a potential source of trouble for the local authorities (as with football).  Drinking, gambling, fighting, and desecration of the Sabbath were all reasons for the upper classes to be suspicious of lower class sports.  Blood sports such as bull-baiting and cockfighting were brutal “sports” whose main function seemed to facilitate gambling.  Shamefully fox hunting and hare coursing are still legal in Ireland whilst cockfighting is still popular in the Americas and Asia and bullfighting still acts as release of bloodlust for certain sections of Hispanic society in Spain and South America.

Horse racing is still hugely popular in Ireland but it is the team sports of the lower classes such as hurling and football (Gaelic, association, and rugby) that have endured as the most popular sports in the country.  Sport in Ireland is a serious history which might not be for those seeking a more basic treatment of the subject.  Nonetheless there is a sufficient supply of anecdotes and fascinating facts to interest anybody seeking to learn about the roots of Irish sport.


Related Links

Irish Council Against Blood Sports

The Cold Eye of Heaven – Quick Review


Christine Dwyer Hickey  300px-Flag_of_Ireland.svg

Atlantic Books (2011), 216 pages

Central Library, Borrowed

Tomorrow I’m going to a talk in the Dublin Writers’ Festival featuring two Irish writers and two South Korean writers.  The two Irish writers are Colin Barrett and Christine Dwyer Hickey  The two Korean writers are Jeong Mi-kyeong and Lee Kiho.  I know nothing about Korean literature but was unable to find either Korean writers’ books in a Dublin library.  I did manage to get a copy of The Cold Eye of Heaven so I could familiarise myself with another author I know nothing about.

The Cold Eye of Heaven begins with the protagonist, Farley, possibly dying on a toilet floor.   The book starts in the Dublin of 2010 and then each chapter works back a decade in Farley’s life.  This unusual structure inverts the usual memoir form.  The influence of James Joyce looms over this book and that’s not a bad thing.  There is the sense of paralysis of Dubliners,  the coming of age tales of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and the walking around Dublin of Ulysses.

As the reader goes back into Farley’s life we find that he has failed to move beyond major incidents in his life, especially the death of his wife.  Farley invested much of his life in his job but when he retires he is childless and alone.  Also, for various reasons, he has missed out on major events that act as cultural reference points for the rest of Irish society such as the trial of Catherine Nevin, the Irish victory over Romania in the 1990 World Cup, or the visit of Richard Nixon to Dublin.  Farley’s story is a sad one but Hickey tells it with humour and insight.  The Cold Eye of Heaven is a warning to live your life to the fullest before death snatches you away.





The Bin Ladens by Steve Coll – Quick Review

ImageSteve Coll  USA

Penguin (2008), 671 pages


Saudi Arabian History & Politics  Saudi_Arabia

The Bin Ladens: Oil, Money, Terrorism and the Secret Saudi World is an in-depth look at the Bin Laden family from their time as Yemeni emigrants to Osama Bin Laden’s role in mass murder and the tarnishing of his family’s name.  Any reader looking for a biography of Osama Bin Laden should look elsewhere; over two-thirds of this book is devoted to family members other than Osama.

Osama’s father, Mohammed Bin Laden, single-handedly built the Bin Laden construction empire and earned his wealth through contracts granted by the Saudi royal family.  After Mohammed’s death the Bin Laden companies were led by Osama’s colourful brother Salem Bin Laden.  Mohammed Bin Laden fathered 54 children by 22 wives (he divorced wives so that he never had more than an Islamically acceptable four wives at a time).  Mohammed divorced Osama’s mother Alia a few years after their marriage.  Alia remarried and Osama moved with her away from the Bin Laden compound.  It’s possible he resented this sense of exclusion from the seat of Bin Laden power, even if he was still entitled to a share of the Bin Laden wealth.  Coll estimates that in his lifetime (Bin Laden’s terrorist activities eventually led to them cutting off his funds) Bin Laden received about $27 million.

As a youth Bin Laden became involved in Islamic extremism.  This extremism initially found its outlet in jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.  Following the Afghan war Osama’s opposition to Saudi policy, especially the sanctioning of US troops on Saudi soil during the Gulf War, led to outright opposition to the Saudi regime.  In the Bin Laden family, as in the Saudi royal family, and Saudi society in general there are liberal and conservative wings.  Osama’s extreme views would have been tolerated if he had restricted himself applying them to his family life.  Osama’s justifiable accusations of hypocrisy against the royal family could not be tolerated especially as they threatened the family business.  Perhaps Osama’s own insecurities in relation to his position in the Bin Laden clan enabled him to justify mass murder as a way of forging a identity separate from the Bin Laden business.


Related Links

The Battle for Saudi Arabia Review

The Saudi Bin Laden Group Website

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright – Quick Review


Lawrence Wright  USA

Vintage Books (2013), 538 pages

Book Depository, €10.90

U.S. History & Politics  USA

Scientology is belief system that has polarised public opinion since its creation by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1953.  Opponents have characterised the Church of Scientology as a cult that demands its adherents money, disconnection from family and friends, and belief in a bizarre set of creation myths.  Scientology’s most prominent public faces are those of its celebrity members such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Beck, Kirstie Alley, Isaac Hayes, Juliette Lewis,  and Priscilla Presley.

Scientologists claim that by applying the principles of Dianetics they can achieve the “Clear” state of mental perfection.  Dianetics is a pseudoscience developed by L. Ron Hubbard which promises to remove the  negative emotions of the “reactive mind” (called “engrams”).  In order to reach the Clear state Scientologists pay for auditing sessions using a device called an e-meter.  After successfully completing a level of auditing the Scientologist can rise a level up the Scientology Operating Thetan (OT) scale.

Wright’s many claims (and he is not the first to mention most of them) are too many to list here but some of the most sensational are: his appalling treatment of the women in his lives.  That members of Scientology’s Sea Org sign one billion year contracts.  David Miscavige’s wife hasn’t been seen in public since 2007.  Operation Snow White was Scientology’s attempt to infiltrate US government offices with Scientologists convicted in a subsequent court case.  L. Ron Hubbard’s war record was fabricated, he claimed some military awards that never existed.  Scientology tried to find a girlfriend for Tom Cruise.  Scientology’s opposition to psychiatry stems from Hubbard’s belief that psychiatrists carried out a genocide in the Galactic Confederacy 75 million years ago.

Wright punches massive holes in Scientology’s claims about its founder, its scientific claims, and the image of Scientology’s current leader David Miscavige.  Wright’s credibility as a respected journalist with The New Yorker mean that his claims carry more weight than those on anti-Scientology websites such as Operation ClambakeGoing Clear: Scientology. Hollywood & the Prison of Belief is a nuanced and balanced account of Scientology from its beginning up until the present day which is both a shocking and a gripping page turner.


Straight Left by Ruairi Quinn – Quick Review


Ruairi Quinn  300px-Flag_of_Ireland.svg

Hodder Headline Ireland (2005), 448 pages

Chapters Bookstore,  €5

Irish History & Politics  300px-Flag_of_Ireland.svg

Ruairi Quinn is on the right of the Labour Party and his autobiography Straight Left, A Journey in Politics charts his rise from student politics (where he was apparently nicknamed Ho Chi Quinn) to leader of his party.  He is the currently the Minister for Education although the betting money would be on him being shuffled out of his ministerial position before the next general election.  Quinn has proven to be a highly capable Minister during his times in government.  He was the first Labour Minister for Finance and he succeeded in running a budget surplus, decreasing unemployment, increasing economic growth, and managing not to overheat the economy.  It is interesting to speculate how Ireland’s economy have fared if Quinn been at the financial helm for a few more years.  Instead some of Quinn’s successors favoured the gombeen economic policies that played a significant part in bankrupting the country.

Straight Left begins in Quinn’s childhood, continues through days as an architecture student in UCD, and covers his first steps into local politics.  Quinn’s straight talking style annoys some of his critics but it is sometimes refreshing to hear a politician get angry about something he truly believes in.  He pulls no punches when describing the idiosyncracies of dealing with Noël Browne in the 1970s or his dealings with the left wing of Labour (including current President Michael D. Higgins) during Mary Robinson’s successful presidential campaign.  The internal workings of the merger of Labour and Democratic Left (who in turn were a splinter from The Workers’ Party who were the political wing of the Marxist Official IRA!) are also fascinating.

The faults of Straight Left are the same as virtually any other political autobiography.  There is a tendency to over-emphasise your achievements and underplay your mistakes.  There is also perhaps some truth in the left wing of the Labour Party’s belief that Quinn’s experiences leave him somewhat detached from the traditional working class voter.  Nonetheless Straight Left is well written and an interesting read for anybody interested in Irish politics.  Ruairi Quinn is now 68 and it’s debatable if he will stand in the next general election.  His recent battle with the teachers’ unions (including a megaphone attack by a former Socialist Party member) have shown that Quinn can still provoke his opponents.  You might not agree with Quinn’s planned reforms to the Junior Cert exams, or his suggestion that primary school teachers should pass honours maths in the Leaving Cert, or that teachers take shorter holidays, but at least you get the impression that he is working on new ideas and not simply keeping his head down until the day he can claim his ministerial pension.


Related Links

Without Power or Glory – Dan Boyle of the Green Party’s account of their time in government

The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000 – Diarmaid Ferriter’s essential account of modern Ireland that covers much of Quinn’s time in the Oireachtas