I'll Be Right There by Kyung-sook Shin

I'll Be Right There by Kyung-sook Shin is a fantastic work of art which immersed me in its mesmerizing grasp with its poetic writing, life-like characters, and reality-check plot.

College Calls

Unfortunately, college demands my full attention right now. I will return with bigger and better things planned. See you soon!

Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay

Juliet Immortal started out confusing but quickly became a great retelling of Shakespeare’s famous work.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Being swept into a fairytale filled with cyborgs, creatures from the moon, and an unforgettable prince made for a wild ride!

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Rick Yancey wrote a great story that every sci-fi reader should discover. It captures reality and the story keeps readers on the edge of their seats the entire time.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Translator Interview: Sora Kim-Russell

Sora kim-Russell is a poet and translator originally from California and now living in Seoul, South Korea. Her work has appeared in Words Without Borders, Azalea: A Journal of Korean Literature and Culture, Drunken Boat, Pebble Lake Review, The Diagram, and other publications. She teaches at Ewha Womans University. --Other Press
While studying abroad in South Korea, I had the most amazing opportunity to interview the translator of Kyung-sook Shin's I'll Be Right There, Sora Kim-Russell.  Her words were both insightful and inspiring.

How did you get into the world of literary translation?
I kind of fell into it, as I always had an interest in literature. Starting in high school, I began writing poetry. I wrote all through college, got some work published, and when I moved to Korea, I was still actively writing.  My first job here was editing translations for a Korean studies journal, which sometimes involved retranslation. Through that, I found that I enjoyed the process of translation.  And it just happened that both a coworker and a friend mentioned a couple of opportunities related to literary translation: the Korea Times literature translation contest and the Korean Literature Translation Institute.  I won the Korea Times contest in 2005 for poetry translation, and KLTIs translation contest for new translators in 2007. From that point on, everything sort of came together.

Could you recommend a Korean book that you've enjoyed?
Park Min-gyu’s Legend of World Heroes. He was part of the reason I became interested in literary translationI read that novel in Korean and thought, This could be amazing in English. I think part of what happens when you become interested in translation is that you're reading literature that is not translated yet and you wonder why it isn't.  Another novel by Park Min-gyu came out last yearPavane for a Dead Princessso I think we will see more and more of his work being translated in the future.

What drew you to I'll Be Right There?
This project also sort of fell into my lap.  I'd read work by Kyung-sook Shin before but had not imagined that I would end up translating her. Chi-Young Kims translation of Please Look After Mom was such a grand slam that I figured she would continue as her translator.  So when I was offered the project, I was very surprised but of course you don't say no to an offer like that.  Shin has a very interesting style, so it seemed like it would be a really good challenge to take on.

In I'll Be Right There, what was your favorite scene to translate to English-- what spoke to you?  Why?
My favorite chapter to translate was A SINGLE SMALL BOAT with Dahn's letters.  There was something about his voice that really struck methe loneliness thats palpable in the way he describes the beach and the things around him.  And you never really get a full picture of what's happening with himI liked that incomplete glimpse into his life.  I also enjoyed Shins descriptive passages, such as when Jung visits Miru's apartment and is looking at the paintingthat passage really lingered with me when I read it the first time.


Tell us a little about the life of a translator.  What does a normal day look like when you are working on a project like I'll Be Right There?
I don't know if I'm a normal translator. I cant really speak for anyone else. I think we all have different schedules and different ways of working. For me, I like to be as immersed as possible so, ideally, I like to have a minimum of, let's say, three or four hours where I can just focus on translating.  I usually do that workeither translating or revising the translationbefore I move on to other things.  When deadlines are getting close, Ill even spend all day at it, like a regular 8-hour workday. Its doable but I dont necessarily recommend that, as it can be exhausting.  I also teach translation classes at Ewha Womans University and the Korean Literature Translation Institute, and I usually avoid working on a translation the same day I'm teaching.

What advice would you give to an up and coming translator?
My main advice is simply to read a lot and to read widely.  I also think it's important to be a writer in your own right, because you need to understand how prose works and how flexible English can be. I think what happens for people who are new to translation is that they don't have a wide range of expressions yetfor every word or phrase in Korean, they might have only one or two corresponding phrases in Englishwhereas if you do your own writing, youre more aware of how many different sentences are possible.

Did you come across any challenges when translating I'll Be Right There?  If so, what?
There were a lot of challenges, actually. It was probably the most challenging translation that I've done to date.  First, the writer's voice is very distinct. Shes different from other Korean writers, and her voice is consistent throughout all of her works. I didnt want to alter or diminish that voice. The other specific challenge was that the writer asked me not to alter the text. Of course, in translation, you dont want to rewrite the text, but you still have to assume a certain amount of flexibility in order to make it read well in English. Shin didnt want anything added, deleted or changed, so I had this extra challenge of trying to tread as lightly as possible while still taking Anglophone readers expectations into account.

What drew you to the Korean literature and language?
As far as the language, it was a personal connection for me: Im a biracial Korean-American, so the language has always been a part of my life. That said, I didnt start formally learning the language until college.  Once I did, I fell in love with the language, and the literature naturally followed.

During the process of translating I'll Be Right There, what was the nature of your relationship with Kyung-sook Shin, the author?  How much contact and collaboration went on?
There was a fair amount of contact and collaboration, especially compared to other translation projects Ive worked on, but it was mainly during the revision and editing stages.  I usually save my questions for the writer until Ive completed the rough draft, because I like the idea of being alone with the book and having my own understanding of it. It makes it easier to immerse yourself in the characters' lives.  But once that stage of translation was done, I began going back and forth with the writer, both to clarify parts of the text that were unclear or confusing and to discuss changes and alterations that were made in the translation. In some cases, that meant just a quick email to confirm a detail, and in other cases, we had face-to-face meetings to discuss the book.

Could you talk a little about the process of identifying and then translating the voice of Jung Yoon, the protagonist of I'll Be Right There?
It was definitely challenging at first.  When I first started translating the book, I didnt feel a strong personal identification with the character, so there was a process, for me, of understanding her and understanding what makes her tick, why she reacts to things the way she does, why she says the things she says.  But at some point it all clicked, and it became much easier to capture her voice. For example, one specific challenge was her tendency to hold backwhen other characters say things to her, she doesn't always answer immediately but instead echoes their words back to them. Her emotions are projected onto the world around her rather than being stated outright. I found this indirectness tricky to connect with emotionally, but once Id read and translated the entire book and saw how the pieces fit together, she suddenly made sense to me. I noticed how it wasnt just about the things she says directly but also the way she views the world, the details that she lingers overin other words, not just her direct dialogue and thoughts but all of the narrative sentences in between. That was where her personality revealed itself to me.


Are you currently working on any projects?  And if so, can you tell us about them?
I have two translations coming out next year: a novella called Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, from AmazonCrossings, and a novel called PrincessBari by Hwang Sok-yong, from Garnet Publishing in the UK.

The novella is set in 1988 and tells the story of a young woman whos working two jobs to support her dysfunctional familyher dad is in prison, her mom is an alcoholic, and her older brother is about to leave for Japan for a job as a manual laborer. Meanwhile, this old boyfriend named Cheolsu, whos from a very comfortable, middle-class family, comes back into her life. The novella is about the course of that relationship and what she learns about herself. But the writers style is experimental fiction, so its not told in a straightforward way. The story jumps back and forth in time and reflects the narrators psychological instability.

Princess Bari is about a North Korean girl who defects to China, where she finds work at a massage studio (legitimate massage, not prostitution) and makes her way to London in a container ship. There, she meets a Pakistani-British man who ends up wrongfully accused of being a terrorist. The novel is rooted in current eventsit begins with the North Korean famine that took place in the 1990s and continues up through the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York and the 7/7 suicide attacks in Londonand is framed around a Korean folktale called Princess Bari. In this tale, Bari is the seventh daughter of a king who wants a son. Shes abandoned as an infant, but later her parents become ill and the only cure is a special water that only Bari can retrieve. She journeys in search of the water and becomes a powerful shaman in the process. Bari is like the patron saint of Korean shamans, and is also the prototype for the title character of this novel.

Do you see the world of translation-- Korean literature, most specifically-- becoming more global?
Well, Korean literature is global in the sense that writers aren't just writing about Korea or setting their stories in Korea but are also writing stories set in other countries and writing characters of other races and nationalities. At the same time, there is a great deal of Korean literature being translated into many languagesnot just English. I think this trend will continue, partly because there is a lot of government support for translation, and also because there are a lot of different translators working hard to get books out onto the market. I think in the next few years we will see a great many Korean novels becoming available abroad.

Do you think America will pick up the titles as well because a lot of Korean literature in America is not widely popular...
I think there's potential but it will depend a lot on marketing.  The reality is that translated books are a small part of the overall book market. Plus, you have not only Korean literature in translation but also Korean-American literature, as well as non-Koreans who write about Korean. The question is, given these choices, what will drive American readers to choose to read a novel in translation?

What makes Korean literature Korean literature?
I suppose its the nationality of the writer that makes it Korean, or whether the novel is written in Korean. But I think what youre getting at with that question is whether Korean literature represents Korea. Personally, I think this idea of representing Koreaand I have to tread carefully hereis problematic. I doubt that most Korean writers are thinking about how to represent Koreathat is, what non-Korean readers will thinkwhen they are writing.  I think they write the stories they want to tell.  One thing that I've truly come to realize as a translator is that I'm not so much translating Korean literature as translating Kyung-sook Shins literature, and Hwang Sok-yongs literature, and Bae Suahs literature. They are all so distinct from each other. When I teach literary translation, as well, we address the same question: how is this writer different from other writers? Of course, that doesnt mean we dont also have to deal with cultural references or ask, What will the reader understand? But to be honest, in the end, sometimes the cultural details are the easiest to translate, while the hardest is, How do I make this English translation sound like it was written by this particular writer? How do I make it sound like this one, individual human being? So while I do understand the question of what makes Korean literature Korean, and I do think it's worth unpacking, the truth is that its not that important to the actual process of literary translation.


Thank you so much for the awesome answers, Ms. Sora Kim-Russell.  

Did you all enjoy the interview?  Want more from Sora Kim-Russell?  Follow her on Twitter and check out her website!

Have you read I'll Be Right There by Kyung-sook Shin yet?  Read my review HERE.

Happy reading!


I'll Be Right There by Kyung-sook Shin

I'll Be Right There by Kyung-sook Shin

Publisher: Other Press
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Pages: 336
Source: purchased
Buy It: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository

How friendship, European literature, and a charismatic professor defy war, oppression, and the absurd Set in 1980s South Korea amid the tremors of political revolution, I’ll Be Right There follows Jung Yoon, a highly literate, twenty-something woman, as she recounts her tragic personal history as well as those of her three intimate college friends. When Yoon receives a distressing phone call from her ex-boyfriend after eight years of separation, memories of a tumultuous youth begin to resurface, forcing her to re-live the most intense period of her life. With profound intellectual and emotional insight, she revisits the death of her beloved mother, the strong bond with her now-dying former college professor, the excitement of her first love, and the friendships forged out of a shared sense of isolation and grief. Yoon’s formative experiences, which highlight both the fragility and force of personal connection in an era of absolute uncertainty, become immediately palpable. Shin makes the foreign and esoteric utterly familiar: her use of European literature as an interpreter of emotion and experience bridges any gaps between East and West. Love, friendship, and solitude are the same everywhere, as this book makes poignantly clear.-- Goodreads
In all honesty, this book review is very difficult to write.  This book is something I need to get out on paper, something that I just need to explain because... feelings.  It's the type of book I want to leave behind another book on my shelf, pretend it was unread so when I return to it, I will relive the same emotions I feel now.  I don't know how to explain it but this book has taken me on a rollercoaster and still stuck high in the sky.  The book was pure genius, pure awesome-ness (and I don't mean that slang term that everyone uses- I'm talking actual AWE!).  Let me explain.

I cannot explain this book with a mere summary because that simple paragraph would not suffice.  I'll Be Right There is about life and not just the fictional life of the character, Jung Yoon, but of my life and of your life, and everyone's life and how we are entwined into the world's life.  For a lack of a better quote, "We are all in this together" (High School Musical -no one is ever to old for that).
I finished this book late at night, when the rest of the house was asleep, and was surprised to find my cheeks wet with tears.  Seriously, I don't cry while reading or while watching films.  I rarely cry at all, in fact.  There was something about this book that made me weep.  Something about its truthfulness that touched me so much so that I cried.

Without giving too much away, I want to bring your attention to the title.

I'll Be Right There is translated from Korean by Sora Kim-Russell, who I had the wonderful chance of meeting while in Korea.  The interview I had with her should be posted soon.  Translated work is always similar and at the same time different.  Sora Kim-Russell did a grand job with this work.  Kyung-sook Shin's voice, best known for Please Look After Mom, also shined through the translation.  The collaboration between author and translator worked very well to bring together the English version.

I'll Be Right There. The outstanding title for the outstanding book.  Talk of the title is mentioned briefly in the novel.  With whom can you say the words of the title to someone and have it be the truth?  And as time passes, will that person remain the same or will there come a time that you saying those words not mean anything at all?  The title itself personifies the whole book (personifies is not the best word but I'm trying to explain what Shin has done here so cleverly).  Kyung-sook Shin is telling her readers how gentle life can be, how powerful and meaningful, and how rough and sad life can be as well. 

For graduating high school students and college students, the go-to book is Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss.  Seuss tells us with the title: if you can dream it, you can do it.  Instead of getting a graduate that book, gift them I'll Be Right There.  It makes readers ask the important questions and keep asking, long after the novel is over.

While I was in South Korea, I connected with the protagonist as if we were the same person- that's how close I related to her.  Jung Yoon, a college student, tries to find her path in a sea of roads that could lead anywhere.  Even after the initial relationship between reader and character, I decided to follow some of her adventure.  In the beginning of the book, Yoon describes her walks in the city-- I followed her footsteps among many landmarks around Seoul, South Korea.  Even if you do not have access to Seoul, South Korea (to take walks and try on Jung Yoon's shoes), the character still proves to be relatable with her inner thoughts bubbling to the surface of the page.

The ending was hard to believe.  Not that it was unbelievable, but just that it was difficult to face as truth.  I wanted to be a child, stamp my foot, and swiftly shake my head.  I wanted an adult to nudge my shoulder and say with a sigh, "Well, that's how it is.  That's life."  I'm still trying to admit that Kyung-sook Shin left it at that.  The ending was not disappointing.  The ending was just how it was supposed to end.  That is how it is. 

I'll Be Right There by Kyung-sook Shin is a fantastic work of art which immersed me in its mesmerizing grasp with its poetic writing, life-like characters, and reality-check plot.  It is most definitely worth picking up.

Cover: 5
Writing Style: 5
Plot: 4
Characters: 5
Ending: 5

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! 

This year I want to do something a little differently.  As much as I am not planning on doing the annual book discussion I usual create, this year I wanted to make sure you all have something to look forward, as well as make reading even more fun than it already is!  I will try to complete a reading challenge.  I haven’t done a reading challenge since a few years ago so I am most definitely looking forward to it!

Now, this reading challenge was put up by PopSugar.  Truthfully, they may call it a challenge, but I’m taking it as a checklist which is fun enough!  No pressure, right?  If it sounds like something you would enjoy, please join me this year in the challenge.  Let me know in the comments how you are getting along. 

Here’s the checklist: (Read more about PopSugar’s checklist for the 2015 Reading Challenge HERE.) 



2015 is going to be a great year!