New translated novel a success for local author

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New translated novel a success for local author

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Shin Kyung-sook

When local author Shin Kyung-sook released “Please Look After Mom,” her first novel translated into English, she had no idea it would set global records for a work of its kind.

For a foreign writer, finding global success is a difficult feat.

Translated titles account for a mere 3 percent of those published in the United States, but “Please Look After Mom,” published in 2011, was a New York Times best-seller and is currently sold in more than a dozen countries worldwide.

And so far, that luck doesn’t appear to be waning. Shin’s newest novel “I’ll Be Right There” was released on June 3 and has since received a number of positive accolades.

“[‘I’ll Be Right There’] is somehow still a page-turner, such is Shin’s gift for storytelling, as well as her careful cultivation of motifs,” Nami Mun wrote in a New York Times review on June 5.

Set in the tumultuous 1980s, when cries for democratic change were at a peak, the story revolves around the tragic personal history of a female protagonist and her college friends.

The JoongAng Ilbo recently sat down with Shin, 51, an author of more than 60 books, in Manhattan to learn more about her latest work. The following is an edited excerpt from the interview:



Q. “Please Look After Mom,” your previous translated work, was a huge hit.

A. I’ve been working as an author for 29 years now, but “Please Look After Mom” was a chance for me to begin something new; it was a turning point in my literary career. But I also felt that my professional reputation was fixing on a motherly image. And as an author, being recognized for a particular book can be quite unwelcoming. I wanted to interact with the young generation, which is why I came up with the idea of writing a story contrary to “Please Look After Mom.”



Your new English translation appears to be receiving outstanding reviews from the foreign press.

In Korea, I’m an author of medium-standing who has written for the past three decades. But when I cross borders, I’m just a budding writer with a mere two books published, and that fact gives me the jitters - a feeling I’m quite fond of, actually. The tension enables me to look back on my life and brace my nerves.



What are you most anxious about?

My work: the work I’ve personally written but can’t understand a thing about. English is agreeable to a certain extent, but when it comes to French, German or Spanish, I’m left utterly clueless. Not knowing whether the book is well written despite the fact that I’m the writer makes me feel like I’m reading a book written in braille.



Do you think foreign readers will be able to grasp the story since the book is set in Korean society?

Our cultures are ostensibly different, but I think essentially, we have a lot in common. Although the four young adults in the book live in a tragic era, they wish to be together, to love, to dream, to move forward - desires I think that are similar across all countries.



Did you grow up wanting to become an author?

The thought of writing just came naturally to me. The characters we meet in books are unattractive, unhappy people with a lot of ongoing issues, and that captivated me because I generally see those kinds of people in my everyday life. I thought the characters who struggle day by day could be the protagonists in my literary works.



Do you see yourself as having fulfilled your life-long dream?

The moment I accomplish my dream, I find another new dream revives itself inside me. ... I try to write with the hope that my books penetrate my readers’ hearts, strike a chord and lead them in a positive direction.


BY LEE SUNG-EUN, LEE JOO-SARANG [selee@joongang.co.kr]



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