The Korean wave has been spreading more and more around the world. One of its components is literature, which is being translated into different languages over the years; Spanish is not an exception. Last year, the Bogota International Book Fair (FilBo) had South Korea as its guest of honor, and in its pavilion, they had an exhibition of children’s books and other literary works. In fact, two books were published with translations from Korean into Spanish for the celebration of 60 years of the bilateral relations between the Republic of Colombia and the Republic of Korea One is called Convivencia, and the other one is Por fin ha comenzado el fin. In addition, other Korean books arrived on behalf of several publishers such as Hwarang Editorial to attract more readers. In this blog, we hope to talk about four excellent writers to generate curiosity about them and their work. Korean literature is an ocean in which we are just diving little by little.
These Korean women were born between the 60s and 80s and all have some of their works translated into Spanish. For example, El duende de Fuentevilla 샘마을 몽당깨비 by Hwang Sun Mi where a reflection on mutual support is made and shows us a world of fantastic and anthropomorphic beings, Shoot Me in the Heart 내 심장을 쏴라 by Jeong You Jeong which talks about mental health through the story of two inmates in a psychiatric hospital. Moreover, Sunae, my older sister 언니, 나의 작은 순애 언니 by Choi Eun Young where the relationship between two sisters is explored and finally Vergel 가원 by Kang Hwa Gil where family relationships are reflected. Their names have already been mentioned with some of their translated works, but this is insufficient to generate curiosity about them, so the following I will talk a little about their lives and work.
Hwang Sun Mi ( 1963) is a children’s author with numerous awards and over 40 books published. In her stories abound fantasy and anthropomorphic beings. In addition, her work has been adapted into puppet shows, musicals, and animations. Regarding her personal life, she is the second of five children and was unable to attend high school for economic reasons. However, with a validation exam, she later entered high school. She studied creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts (1984) and did her master’s degree at Chung-Ang University. Her most famous work is The Hen Who Dreamed of Flying 마당을 나온 암탉 from 2000, published five years after her debut as a writer. The work also has an animated adaptation. The Hen Who Dreamed of Flying has sold more than 2 million copies in Korea and this has been translated into 27 languages¹. Hwang has won several awards, including the SBS Literary Award (2001) and the 36th Sejong Children’s Literature Award (2003).
Jeong You Jeong (1966) was born in South Jeolla Province. Although from an early age, she wanted to be a writer, due to her mother’s opposition to this career, she worked as a nurse until she was 35 years old. The first works she began writing on an online literature site, her first published novel being Eleven-year-old Jeong-euni 열한 살 정은이. She is considered an icon of psychological thriller and crime novels in Korea. On rare occasions, she participated in open competitions for novels but lost eleven times before winning the 1st Segye Ilbo World Youth Literature Award in 2007 for her work 내 인의 스프링 캠프 The Spring Field of My Life and in 2009 she won the 5th Segye Ilbo World Literature Award with the work 내 심장을 쏴라 Exposing My Heart.
Jeong You Jeong has published several novels, including the so-called Evils of Humanity trilogy: Seven Years of Darkness 7년의 밤 (2011), which was chosen in 2015 as one of the ten best crime novels in Germany by Die Zeit newspaper; 28 (2013) where free will is explored; and The Good Son 종의 기원 (2016), which is translated into Spanish by Penguin Random House Publishing House. Jeong’s work has been translated into several languages, published in 20 countries, and adapted for film and television².
Choi Eun Young (1984) was born in Gwangmyeong, entered Korea University in 2002 to study Korean Literature, and participated in the development of a feminist magazine. Choi made her literary debut in 2013 with Shoko’s Smile 쇼코의 미소, which had twelve editions until 2017. She has written several books that have made her worthy of various awards. For her work Shoko’s Smile 쇼코의 미소 she won the Munhakdongne Prize for young writers in 2014; the Heo Gyun Prize for young writers in 2016 and in 2017 the Munhakdongne Prize for young writers³.
His relationship with his father greatly influenced his literary work, as he was a teacher and a member of the Korean Union of Teachers and Education Workers, so he had a critical view regarding society, however, he was conservative on gender issues, as opposed to his daughter⁴. Political and social issues can be seen reflected in his work with titles such as Secret 비밀, where he tells the story of the death of a substitute teacher, or Michaela 미카엘라, where he refers to the Sewol Ferry tragedy. As well as showing her interest in feminism with works such as A Song from Beyond 먼 곳에서 온 노래 where a young woman faces the death of her lover and travels to Russia looking for information.
Kang Hwa Gil (1986) was born in Jeonju in northern Jeolla Province and enjoyed reading from an early age, which led her to study literature at Jeonbuk National University and be active in book clubs at the university. She made her literary debut in 2012 with the short story Room 방. One particularity of her work is that she repeatedly talks about the problems and anxieties of women in the present. She has even been called a feminist writer for some of her works such as Una buena persona 괜찮은 사람 (2016) and Una persona diferente 다른 사람 (2017). In Spanish, we have the opportunity to have translated her work Solo las Mujeres Desaparecen, from Hwarang Editorial, which contains the text El mismo sendero⁵.
Regarding her influences, we can point out the works of 19th-century writers such as Mary Shelly and the Brontë Sisters, from whom she takes the romantic gothic narrative, mystery, and suspense, which have become the main characteristics of her work. According to Hwang, one of his favorite works is White Horse, her second collection of short stories, which she revealed was inspired by Taylor Swift’s song with the same name⁶.
These four wonderful Korean writers have some of their stories available in English, and they have a wide variety of works to delight readers. This is just a taste of all, there is to talk about Korean literature. On the other hand, I would like to recommend the Digital Library of Korean Literature if you want to explore more, since there are many translated books to read. Had you already known or read any of these authors
Written by: Andrea Ramirez
Reviewed by: Luisa Quintero
Kang Hwa Gil, Choi Eunyoung, Jeong You Jeong, & Hwang Sun Mi. (2022). Coexistence. Four short stories by Korean women writers (1st ed.). Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the Republic of Colombia.
Digital Library of Korean Literature (n. d.-a). Choi Eunyoung. Digital Library of Korean Literature. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from http://library.ltikorea.or.kr/writer/200625.
Digital Library of Korean Literature. (n. d.-b). CONVIVIENCE. Digital Library of Korean Literature. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from http://library.ltikorea.or.kr/translatedbooks/406747.
Digital Library of Korean Literature. (n. d.-c). Jeong You Jeong. Digital Library of Korean Literature. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from http://library.ltikorea.or.kr/writer/200108.
Digital Library of Korean Literature. (n. d.-d). Kang hwa gil. Digital Library of Korean Literature. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from http://library.ltikorea.or.kr/writer/201038
Digital Library of Korean Literature. (n. d.-e). Sun-mi Hwang. Digital Library of Korean Literature. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from http://library.ltikorea.or.kr/writer/200426
Enriquez, M. (n. d.). Korean Literature Now-KLN > Lines > Reviews > [SPANISH] Shining in the Darkness. Korean Literature Now – KLN. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from https://www.kln.or.kr/
Hwang, H. G. (2023). K-Book Trends-Writer Kang Hwa-Gil [Interview]. http://www.kbook-eng.or.kr/sub/interview.php?ptype=view&idx=537&page=3&code=interview
Kang, H. (2015, October 26). Korean fable captures hearts of readers around the world. TheKoreatimes. https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2023/02/113_189442.html
Penguin Random House. (n. d.). You-Jeong Jeong | Penguin Books. PenguinBooks. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from https://www.penguinlibros.com/co/32697-you-jeong-jeong