A Korean Wave of readingSouth Korean literature and authors have been in the spotlight in the birthplace of English after Korea was chosen to be the Market Focus - the most important guest state - at the London Book Fair 2014, which opened at Earls Court on Tuesday. Korean books joined the best-seller shelves in London bookstores, and Korean publishers were approached by major publishing companies after showcasing in one of the world’s largest book fairs.
The Korean Wave that had so far been limited to entertainers, pop culture and games may finally be expanding to include the literary arena. Among the invited authors, Hwang Sun-mi’s English version of the children’s tale “The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly” was placed on the best-sellers’ shelf the British bookstore Foyles in its London Waterloo location. It also has been listed as the Book of March at another major bookstore, Waterstones. Lee Jung-myung’s 2012 novel “Investigation” in English also joined the best novel section at Waterstones’ Trafalgar Square branch.
Korean literature has finally broken through the thick walls of the British publishing market. In Hwang’s tale, a hen breaks free and wanders beyond the barnyard gates to take on the harsh world, and the book in simple words addresses the universal theme of motherhood as well as the physical and evolutionary dangers of the world with a touch of reality. Lee’s fiction - motivated by the true story of poet Yun Dong-ju - delves into the universal topic of injustices against humanity during World War II. Universal language and voice overcame cultural differences to move English-speaking readers.
Through literature, people around the world will be able to discover Korea beyond pop culture and mobile phones. The London arrival may be the beginning. Quality in translations and original stories are essential, which is why Korean publishers designed their London Book Fair programs and events on the theme of “Books Open Minds and Doors Open to the Future.”
President Park Geun-hye included cultural promotion on her national agenda and pledged various policies to spread Korean culture. The Korean Wave has been mostly driven by individuals. Many artists struggle to pursue their art amid regulations. They ask the government to allow freedom in creativity if not financial assistance. The Culture Ministry promised full support to develop cultural software. The London Book Fair organized by the publishers demands creativity in administrative policy and support beyond mere rhetoric and financial assistance.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 10, Page 30