South Korea Posts

Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”, translated by Deborah Smith

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Deborah Smith (left), translator of the winning book, The Vegetarian, with author Han Kang at the Man Booker International Prize in London. Photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images. ( Taken from the Internet)

She was crouching, still wearing her nightclothes, her dishevelled, tangled hair a shapeless mass around her face. Around her,  the kitchen floor was covered with plastic bags and airtight containers, scattered all over so that there was nowhere I could put my feet without treading on them. Beef for shab-shabu, belly pork, two sides of black beef shin, some squid in a vacuum-packed bag, sliced eel that my mother-in-law had sent us form the countryside ages ago, dried croaker tied with yellow string, unopened packs of frozen dumplings and endless bundles of unidentified stuff dragged from the depths of the fridge. There was a rustling sound; my wife was busy putting the things around her one by one into black rubbish bags. …She kept on putting the parcels of meat into the rubbish bags, seemingly no more aware of my existence than she had been last night. Beef and pork, pieces of chicken, at least 200,000 –won of saltwater eel.

The Vegetarian or Chaesikjuuija by Han Kang was published in Korean in 2007. The Vegetarian is about Yeong-hye who decides to become a vegetarian. She is discovered by her husband quietly and methodically removing all the meat products from their refrigerator and putting them into garbage bags. A horrifying proposition as her father points out, “It’s preposterous, everyone eats meat!” Yeong-hye is reserved and rarely speaks even to her husband. She prefers to remain confined to a room in their apartment reading and reflecting. After deciding to turn vegetarian despite being more than a competent cook she inexplicably imposes the dietary restriction on her husband too. He seeks assistance from his in-laws in the hope they will be able to get some sense in to their daughter but to no avail. Slowly the mental well-being of Yeong-hye deteriorates when she begins to believe that she is photosynthesising like a plant and has to be institutionalised.

The Vegetarian sub-heading declares it to be a novel. But the published version consists of three interlinked stories told from three different points-of-view: Yeon-hye’s husband, brother-in-law and sister. While they tell the story there are marginal overlaps of the narrative but slowly and steadily the plot does move ahead in time. It covers the time from the moment Yeon-hye decides to turn vegetarian to her institutionalisation, abandoned by her husband, returns to society to live alone albeit under the supervision of her sister and then back again in an institution. During the course of this time supposedly in the name of an art installation she agrees to her brother-in-law’s suggestion to have her body covered in paint and then filmed having sex with him only to be discovered by her sister. Despite the betrayal by her sister, In-hye, does not stop caring for Yeon-hye and regularly visits her, “despite the probing gazes, that mix of suspicion, caution, repugnance, and curiousity” that she encounters from her fellow passengers en route to Ch’ukseong Psychiatric Hospital, Maseok.

It was first published as three separate “novelettes” and then compiled into a “novel” as described on the copyright page of the English edition. This is how it was published in English too in 2015. An early version of the story that developed into The Vegetarian can be read on the Granta website:http://granta.com/the-fruit-of-my-woman/ .  This curiously mesmerising example of a contemporary magic realism novel went on to win the Man Booker International Prize, the first after it had been combined with the Independent Prize for Foreign Fiction.  Han Kang beat other powerful contenders such as Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk, Elena Ferrante and Kenzaburō Ōe. From this year the prize is now awarded to a single foreign novel translated into English, the money involved—£50,000 ($72,000)—being shared equally by author and translator. Till the win Han Kang and Deborah Smith were little known in international literary circles. Interestingly enough translating this book was one of Deborah Smith’s first professional attempts and she literally struck gold. She has said many times on social media since the win that she was translating the book while learning Korean. It was pure luck that this particular book went on to achieve international acclaim. In an interview, Smith explains how, having completed a degree in English literature, she decided to become a translator. Monolingual until then, she chose Korean “pragmatically,” because she had heard there was a lively literary scene in Korea and far fewer translators than for European languages. But she also very graciously acknowledged in an article how publishing is an industry and translation is a community – “nobody’s in it for the money, largely because there usually isn’t any”. (http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/deborah-smith-publishing-is-an-industry-but-translation-is-a-community-1.2688760) She herself proposed The Vegetarian to an English publisher who accepted it. It is the first novel she has translated. Yet there has been criticism regarding the quality of translation from critics such as Tim Parks who refers to them as “translation niggles”.  (http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/06/20/raw-and-cooked-translation-why-the-vegetarian-wins/ )

For someone so passionate about the translated literature it is apt Smith has inaugurated her independent publishing press, Tilted Axis Press, with Bengali writer Sangeeta Bandhopadhyay’s Panty, translated by Arunava Sinha. To commemorate Women in Translation Month* ‪ (#‎WITMonth ) observed in August, Deborah Smith published the second title, a South Korean novel One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun, translated by Jung Yewon.

*The Women in Translation month is an annual ritual started as recently as three years ago to address the gender imbalances in literature by blogger Meytal Radzinski at Biblibio.  (http://biblibio.blogspot.in/2016/08/witmonth-2016-day-1-ready-set-go.html )

Han Kang The Vegetarian: A Novel ( Translated by Deborah Smith) Portobello Books, London, 2015. Pb. Pp. 184 Rs 499

On the Marrakesh Treaty and DK Braille Books

cd0877026f8140d697c127619a68bea4On 30 June 2016 Canada became the 20th country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (Marrakesh Treaty). According to logothe fabulously informative online community Spicy IP “The significance of this 20th ratification, (almost exactly three years since the date of adoption) is due to Article 18 of the Treaty which provides that the Treaty shall come into force 3 months after the 20th country ratifies it – thus setting 30th September 2016 up for the Marrakesh Treaty to finally become a reality!” ( 3 July 2016, http://spicyip.com/2016/07/the-miracle-of-marrakesh-finally-to-be-realised.html )

Spicy IP continues: “this treaty provides exceptions to copyright in order to provide access to published materials to the blind, visually disabled, and otherwise print disabled persons. With the coming into force of this Treaty, countries that have ratified it will finally be able to exchange accessible format copies across their borders. This is especially good news for countries such as India, where accessible formats are very hard to get.

The 20 countries that have ratified the treaty are India, El Salvador, United Arab Emirates, Mali, Uruguay, Paraguay, Singapore, Argentina, Mexico, Mongolia, South Korea, Australia, Brazil, Peru, North Korea, Israel, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala and Canada. It is pertinent to note that the United States is not a part of this Treaty as yet.

India was the very first country to ratify this Treaty in 2014, and thanks to the efforts of Rahul Cherian and others, back in 2012 had already brought in domestic legislation amendments which were in line with the treaty would eventually go on to say.”a66314d2c14d49bba85591d532aa1595

Given that only 1% of the books published are available in Braille this is a huge market waiting to be tapped. In terms of publishing what is truly exciting is that DK earlier this year began experimenting with Braille books. With the happy coincidence of the Marrakesh Treaty becoming a reality on 30 September 2016 it puts DK in an enviable position since they have spent a good amount of time researching this market space. ( http://www.dk.com/uk/explore/education/an-intro-to-dk-braille-books/ )

Though this project was originally conceptualised in UK, the books are available across book markets including India. They are available at online stores such as Amazon. A few weeks ago I saw some of these books. They are magnificently produced. The aim is to produce a series of high-quality, custom books with braille and tactile images for blind and partially sighted children, or sighted children with blind parents. The emphasis is on making the braille books fully inclusive, books that could be shared with sighted friends and siblings, teachers and parents. According to one of the production team members, Charlotte, who developed this list, “Children that have a visual impairment are more likely to have nightmares and experience them for longer than sighted children. Books about the world can help to reduce or at least mitigate these nightly terrors. Also, being able to access books means that people with visual impairments feel less socially isolated and experience improved mental health.” With this series “visually impaired people around the world can put their hands down onto DK book pages and instead of feeling nothing, words and pictures will reach out to them and will inform them of some of the pretty amazing things about our planet. Sighted readers will be able to feel the images too, and it will be a more interesting, exciting, and immersive experience. Both audiences can learn the same things by reading and sharing the same book.” These braille books are meant to be affordable, globally accessible, and fully inclusive.

Here are some sample images of the books:

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5 July 2016