Ink and history: Keum Suk Gendry Kim

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“The illustrations have a spark, a magic, that makes the stories become more touching.”

Keum Suk Gendry Kim

Interview with Penguin Libros¹

Author: Andrea Ramírez

Book lovers love book fairs, because they are meeting places with countless stories waiting to be discovered by us. The Book and Culture Festival in Medellin in its seventeenth version has brought us a great surprise for lovers of Korean literature, because among the international guests the author Keum Suk Gendry Kim has visited the country. This meeting had France as a guest country, and women as a central topic, particularly these two themes are directly related to the Korean artist. In this blog, I will tell you a little about her life and some of her books to get you interested in reading graphic novels. Let’s start!

Taken from Instagram.

Let’s start with a little bit of her story: the writer was born in Goheung, Jeolla Province, in 1971. She studied Fine Arts specializing in painting at Sejong University, and at the age of 23, she traveled to France to continue her training at the Higher School of Decorative Arts in Strasbourg (École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs)². France was her home for seventeen years; in fact, her husband teaches French as a foreign language and is a translator like her. Subsequently, Keum Suk Gendry Kim started working as a translator from Korean in 2006; thus, in France, she started publishing her first graphic novels and illustrating many children’s books. According to Korea in Barcelona, she started drawing for Korean-French newspapers, such as Hanweekly and France Zone. Later, in 2011, the artist returned to her native country and soon after settled there permanently.

Book’s cover Jiseul. Taken from Amazon

Now, let’s talk a little about her work, in 2012, she published her first book in French called Le chant de mon père, in which she talks about the history of her family in the seventies with the French publisher Éditions Sarbacane. Just three years later, she published the book Jiseul, in which she narrates one of the open wounds in Korean society: the Jeju insurrection of 1948. The book is based on the film of the same name by O Muel (2012). In fact, a recurring theme in the author’s works is the tragic episodes of Korean history in the 20th century.

Photograph of Keum Suk Gendry Kim with Lee Ok-seon.

In 2017, her first work in Korean finally arrived, this is one of her best-known works, translated into English as Hierba. This novel tells the true story of Lee Ok-seon, who was forced to be a comfort woman during the Japanese occupation, during the years 1937 and 1945. Behind this publication, there is a dedicated three years of research and multiple interviews to create the beautiful work that has won the prestigious Harvey Award in 2020. It has been so popular and acclaimed that it has been translated into more than 14 languages, including Spanish in February 2022. Thanks to the great reception from the public, the author has been invited to exhibit her work internationally, and during her stay in Madrid, Penguin’s Lengua Magazine conducted an interview with her, in which Kim mentions the following regarding her work:

“Everything I do has a great meaning for me. Before writing Grass, I accepted all the commissions I was offered, from translations to illustrations for children’s stories; however, Grass was a turning point: I put aside those other jobs and decided to focus on the stories I really wanted to tell. I started it in a  complicated situation for me, but I knew that if I didn’t take that path as painful as the process was, I might not be able to do it in the future.”³

Image from graphic novel Waiting. Taken from Instagram

Some time later, in the year 2021, she published her second book The Waiting in Korean, in which the main theme is the family separation due to the Korean War. For this work, the author relied on several testimonies of the divided Korea in 1950 including that of her family, since her mother was one of the women who had to leave everything behind to flee the war.º In March 2023, with the newspaper El Español in Madrid, she mentions that young people are not interested in the stories of the older generations who were separated from their families many decades ago and that this battle of the survivors goes unnoticed, when in fact around 57,000 people were registered to participate in the official reunion programs between the South and the North.

Exhibition Photography in Brussels. Taken from Instagram

On the other hand, in interviews, the author lets us glimpse that she is interested in deepening the theme of peace through her works and the important role women play in her works, even she has said that the figures of her grandmother and her mother are present in her work. In some way, one of the objectives that can be glimpsed in her work is to show the patriarchal tradition and how before women were confined to more specific roles, also exploring past and present generations. 

This was just a glimpse of everything that can be explored about the work of Keum Suk Gendry Kim.In fact it is not only possible to know about her work through her books, but in recent years there have been several exhibitions in different countries such as Norway, Belgium and South Korea, where her drawings have been the protagonists. If you want to know a little more about her I leave you her personal blog and her Instagram account. Also, I would like to tell you that it is wonderful how we can learn about the history of the country we are passionate about through the work of this author and artist, and that having her books in our hands is a treasure made possible thanks to the fact that several of her books are not only in Spanish but also in libraries from Colombia and Latinoamerica. 

Reading pair: Carol Correa

Revised by: Marisol Montiel

References

Benaamari, & Palazuelos. (2023, March 9). Keum Suk Gendry-Kim (ilustradora): “A los jóvenes coreanos les preocupa más su vida que la guerra”. El Español. https://www.elespanol.com/enclave-ods/referentes/20230309/keum-suk-gendry-kim-ilustradora-jovenes-coreanos-preocupa/746925395_0.html

Castaño, A. (2023, February 23). Keum Suk Gendry-Kim: «Tenemos que pensar en el valor de la paz y decir: ’No a la guerra’». Diario ABC. https://www.abc.es/cultura/keum-suk-gendrykim-pensar-valor-paz-decir-20230223145726-nt.html

Guerrero, D. (2023, September 4). La Fiesta del Libro y la Cultura de Medellín llega a su edición 17. Periódico Arteria. https://www.periodicoarteria.com/la-fiesta-del-libro-y-la-cultura-de-medellin-llega-a-su-edición-17

La Vanguardia. (2023, June 30). Keum Suk Gendry Kim—Biografía y mejores libros. La Vanguardia. https://www.lavanguardia.com/libros/autores/keum-suk-gendry-kim-20114999

PenguinLibros. (n.d.). Keum Suk Gendry-Kim | Penguin Libros. PenguinLibros. Retrieved on 14 october, 2023, from https://www.penguinlibros.com/co/183889-keum-suk-gendry-kim

PenguinLibros. (n.d.). Keum Suk Gendry-Kim: Cuando el horror llama a la puerta. PenguinLibros. Retrieved on 14 october, 2023, from https://www.penguinlibros.com/co/revista-lengua/comic/keum-suk-gendry-kim-la-espera-hierba

Restrepo J, A. C. (2023, September 29). Un secreto sin consuelo. www.elcolombiano.com. https://www.elcolombiano.com/generacion/edicion-del-mes/un-secreto-sin-consuelo-MN22497649

Tiempo, C. E. E. (2023, September 12). Fiesta del Libro y la cultura en Medellín 2023: Mujeres, literatura internacional y más. El Tiempo. https://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/medellin/comienza-la-fiesta-del-libro-y-la-cultura-en-su-version-numero-17-804897

Wikipedia. (2023). Keum Suk Gendry-Kim. Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre. https://es.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Keum_Suk_Gendry-Kim&oldid=154518212

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