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.
Following 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.
Following 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.
The Library of Korean Literature – Dalkey Archive Press page