Translations of two Korean books are on the long list for the 2022 International Booker Prize – a compilation of sci-fi/horror novels titled “Cursed Bunny” (2017) by Bora Chung and queer fiction “Love in the Big City” (2019) by Park Sang-young.
The books are in the running for the British Literary Prize along with 11 other works such as ‘The Books of Jacob’ (2014) by Polish Nobel Prize-winning author Olga Tokarczuk and ‘More Than I Love My Life’ (2019) by the Israeli author and 2017 Laureate of the Booker David Grossman International Prize.
Among these literary heavyweights are not only Chung and Park, but also their translator Anton Hur.
After translating both “Cursed Bunny” and “Love in the City” last year, the 41-year-old Seoul-based veteran translator has earned two nominations for this year’s International Booker Prize, arguably the most more prestigious than a literary translator can receive. .
“Nominations mean the world,” Hur told Korea JoongAng Daily in an online interview on March 18. “To have both books appear on the long list is an incredible honor and something that I haven’t been able to fully process yet because it’s so overwhelming.
It is no coincidence that Hur was chosen to translate the two books. In fact, he approached both authors and offered to translate their books into English.
Hur first met “Cursed Bunny” at a local book fair called Wowbook Festival in western Seoul, where he immediately asked author Chung and book publisher Arzak s he could translate it.
“Before ‘Cursed Bunny,’ I had never heard of Bora or come across his writings,” Hur said. “But the first sentence of the book was so beautiful and the rest of this short story was so fun, funny, horrific, feminist – it was everything I wanted a story to be.”
As for “Love in the Big City,” Hur already knew the author because he had been translating Park’s works since 2017, a year after Park’s debut as a writer.
Although he felt very passionate about writing Park, which is mostly queer fiction, Hur was initially reluctant to translate his work.
“His short story ‘Tears of an Unknown Artist, or Zaytun Pasta’ [the first of Park’s works that Hur read] was very long,” Hur said. “I knew it was going to be difficult to find someone to post something like 18,000 words. [in English characters].”
But after a series of translators refused to accept Park’s news, Hur decided to do it himself.
“The workload has indeed turned out to be enormous,” Hur said. “But now it’s paid off because he’s nominated for the Booker Prize!”
It usually takes Hur about four to five months to translate a book. Meanwhile, Hur approaches literary translation not only as a writer but also as an ordinary reader of a book he finds interesting or close to his heart.
One of the ways he translates as a reader is to simultaneously read and translate the book page by page instead of reading the whole book in advance.
“[Before I begin translating] I don’t want to read too carefully because I always want to be surprised when I turn the page, and I want that feeling of surprise and discovery to happen to English readers as well,” Hur said. “I don’t want the curse of knowledge in my head where I know what’s going to happen, so I’m a bit biased about the revelation in translation.”
For similar reasons, Hur is known to have strayed from the original authors of the books while translating.
Hur translates the material as he interprets it rather than deciphering the author’s intent for each sentence – like how a regular reader would read a book.
He added that translations are not just conversions from one language to another, but creative content in their own right.
“Translations are copyrighted,” Hur said. “It incorporates the translator’s style and voice.”
Hur’s work also goes far beyond the art of translation.
From finding a foreign publisher to applying for grants and marketing, translators like Hur work behind the scenes to ensure the book’s success, as the Korean author and publishers often lack language skills and outside knowledge. of the local market.
Underpinning Hur’s efforts is his work philosophy as a translator of discovering and presenting fresh, quality content to a wider audience.
“In my experience, readers don’t know what they want until they see it,” Hur said. “It’s only when you present them with a mind-blowing piece of literature that they’re like, ‘Oh, I like that.’ This is what I want to convey through my translations.
The two Booker nominations only confirm Hur’s keen eye for outstanding literature.
He is particularly drawn to books that revolve around less common issues and characters.
“As a translator, I wasn’t too excited to see so many middle-aged cisgender heterosexual Korean men on magazine covers and being pushed around by funding agencies,” Hur said.
“Cursed Bunny” and “Love in the Big City” are part of his aspiration to change the relatively hetero-normative and patriarchal literary scene in Korea.
“Bora in ‘Cursed Bunny’ attacks patriarchy and its ridiculous concepts with his humor, and it’s very effective,” Hur said. “It makes people laugh but also makes them think ‘Yeah, that’s very absurd and we shouldn’t take these stupid ideas we have about women seriously’, like the idea that men should control women’s bodies. women. It’s horrible and absurd. And we should laugh about it, then attack them for what they are – unsustainable ideas.
Hur continued, “Even Sang-young, although he seems to be a very mainstream literary writer, due to his particular subject matter of queer literature, he must have suffered a lot of backlash from the literary establishment, commentators. and the public.”
“It was very clear to me that we needed some sort of reset for the establishment and we need a way to highlight the other literature that is being written in Korea from other perspectives, outside of of the majority,” Hur said. “So it was extremely important for me to translate these works and promote them. I imagine that will continue to be important to me in the future.
Anton Hur was born in Sweden and grew up in Hong Kong, Ethiopia and Thailand. But for about 30 years of his life he lived in Gwacheon in Gyeonggi and Seoul and continues to live in Seoul today.
His translations include the books “The Court Dancer” by Shin Kyung-sook and “The Prisoner” by Hwang Sok-yong. He also won a PEN/Heim grant for his translation of “Cursed Bunny”.
“Cursed Bunny” and “Love in the Big City” were translated by Hur in July and November, respectively, and published in Britain, making them eligible for 2022 Booker nominations.
“Cursed Bunny” is a collection of 10 stories that critique modern societal issues of patriarchy and capitalism through fantastical settings and events.
“Love in the Big City” follows the exuberant but heartbreaking life of a queer man named Young who is fresh out of college in Seoul in the 21st century.
In addition to the Booker Prize which rewards authors of books written in English, the International Booker Prize is an annual prize awarded to a single book which has been translated into English and published in Great Britain or Ireland.
The prize recognizes the author and the translator equally, and the final prize is shared equally between the two.
Korean books that have already been nominated for the International Booker Prize are “The Vegetarian” (2007) and “The White Book” (2016) by Han Kang and translated by Deborah Smith; and “At Dusk” (2015) by Hwang Sok-yong and translated by Sora Kim-Russell.
“The Vegetarian” won the award in 2016. It is the first and only Korean literature to win the award.
A total of 135 foreign language novels that have been translated into English were considered for this year’s award.
Six books will be selected from the 13 books shortlisted for the 2022 International Book Prize Long List.
The shortlist will be announced on April 7 and the final winner on May 26.
BY LEE JIAN [[email protected]]