“The time span of Korean literature being introduced overseas is comparatively short,” she explains. “Before the 2000s, Korea had to go through a series of political and historical events such as the Japanese invasion, the Korean war, industrialization and democratization and couldn’t find the time to take a notice of the international market stream.”
But Brother Anthony of Taize, a Seoul-based translator of Korean literature and professor emeritus in the English department at the city’s Sogang University, takes a somewhat dimmer view of the quality of Korean indigenous works that – up until now – have made it into foreign languages.
He says the country’s poetry posses merits of some depth but places its fictional prose output on a par with the literature of Thailand and the Philippines – “closer to soap opera,” he adds, arguing that the idea of the novel in Korea is essentially a post-Korean war phenomenon.
“There are in a way far too many [Korean works of literature] being published in English,” says the naturalized Korean, known locally as An Sonjae. “ 'Please Look After Mom' is really the first time a Korean publication has been published by a major, recognized commercial press.
“That is exactly the point I have been making for years. They will publish anywhere, places with no reputation. Anything goes as long as they can see it is published.”
He says one of the fundamental problems in the backing of Korean literature is that it is misdirected. Rather than putting so much focus on the business front and publishers, there is a greater need, he says, for support of authors and their development.
Another rising Korean literary star agrees. “Honestly, Korean writers, including Shin and I, still have a long way to go,” said novelist Kim Young-ha (author of 1996 bestselling Korean novel "I Have the Right to Destroy Myself") in an interview last month.