Korean Literature in the UK : Director Kabsoo Kim Interview

Korea Market Focus Logo 2014
Korea Market Focus Logo 2014

Korea’s unique history has had a deep long lasting influence on the country’s literature. Whether these literary works reflect and explore such themes as; history & memory; family and love. It is through these subjects that they convey their stories of human existance and the realities of living and dealing with the modern world.

The country has gained an expanding reputation within the international literary community and it was for this reason and a few others that Korea became the market focus at London’s Book Fair in 2014.
In celebration, a number of activities took place that included a variety of Korean authors visiting the UK to promote their translated works and engage with the audience.

Short video of Korea at the London Book Fair 2014 courtesy of The British Council Arts

One particular activity, now in its second year, is the Korean Cultural Centre’s monthly book club that invites all those with a keen interest and passion to discuss Korean literature.

Korean Literature Night Logo at the KCC UK
Korean Literature Night Logo at the KCC UK

Appropriately titled, KLN (Korean Literature Night), it launched in February 2014 to coincide with the London Book Fair and began with 2011 Man Asian Literary prize winner, Kyung-Sook Shin’s ‘Please Look After Mom’ (translated by Chi-young Kim).

Image courtesy of the KCCUK, Book club discussion April 2014
Book club discussion April 2014, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly (image courtesy of the KCCUK)

Unfortunately, I found out about the book club just after its inaugral session, but made sure to attend subsequent sessions with the exception of two. (One event clashed with a Korean classical event and the other I was abroad on holiday!)

KCCUK’s Book List for 2014
Please Look After Mother – Kyung-Sook Shin (February)
Your Republic is Calling you – Young-Ha Kim (March)
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly – Sun-Mi Hwang (April)
I Have The Right To Destroy Myself – Young-Ha Kim (May)
Our Twisted Hero – Mun-Yol Yi (June)
The Reverse Side of Life – Seung-Woo Lee (July)
The Guest – Sok-Young Hwang (August)
The Long Road – In-Suk Kim (September)
Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers – Hye-Soon Kim (October)
The Shadow of Arms – Sok-Young Hwang (November)

In a series of posts, I will look to explore the reactions to these works by the members attending the KLN evenings and look at the role the KCC is playing in bringing K-literature to a wider audience, the latter of which happens to be the focus of this week’s post.

I caught up with the Director of the KCCUK, Kabsoo Kim, last week to ask him about literature, KLN nights and its continued success into 2015

Director Kabsoo Kim of the KCC; picture courtesy of the KCCUK
Director Kabsoo Kim of the KCC; (image courtesy of the KCCUK)

How did you feel the first year of the KLN nights went in 2014? What was your initial expectation/ambition and what were you hoping to achieve?

Our monthly Korean Literature Night programme grew from Korea’ Market Focus at the 2014 London Book Fair and proved to be an instant success. We would like the programme to draw attention to Korean literature and hope that it can stimulate not just group discussions but also share both Korean culture and Korean emotions through the chosen works.

Do you consult with the LTI Korea (Literature Translation Institute of Korea) in your choice of books and do you have any method in selecting them to coincide with a particular month? For example a love story to celebrate Valentine’s Day in February?

When selecting the books for the KLN programme we work closely with LTI and seek their suggestions. In the case of 2014 the chosen authors were taken from those attending the Book Fair. In 2015 we selected a series of Korean Classics and newly published works, namely from ‘The Cloud Dreams of the Nine’ to the UK’s most recently published Korean book ’The Vegetarian’. We hope that our KLN programme can share a diverse range of Korean literature with our members.


What is your overall intention for the Korean Literature Nights for the KCC? Do you think 2014 has gone some way to achieve these?

Deborah Smith moderating February 2015's KLN 'The Vegetarian'
Book Club discussion February 2014; Translator Deborah Smith moderating ‘The Vegetarian’ (image courtesy of the KCCUK)

Our 2014 KLN programme exceeded our expectations by having such a positive response, so much so that for each month’s event we now select the 15 readers at random from our KLN members, this has proven to be the fairest way of choosing who can join us. Of course we would like to encourage more readers to discover Korean Literature and I hope that this is possible in 2015.

Where do you think the difficulties lie in translation and can a translator remain true to the authors work?

The Korean language has lots of different ways to express ones thoughts which makes translation particularly difficult, so much so that an accurate translation from one language to another is an art form in itself.

Are there any plans to promote the KLN nights further?

We have approached University and Library groups about possible collaborations with local book clubs and we hope that these plans can come to fruition. A range of Korean publishers did attend the Book Fair this year and this was also an opportunity to promote Korean Literature and our literature programme as well.

What sort of novels do you personally enjoy and do you have a favourite author/book?

At the moment I am particularly enjoying the author is Park Wan-suh. She deals with the tragic events of the Korean War and its aftermath. When you read her works one can feel how she loves mankind.

What do you think the future holds for Korean Novels that have been translated into English?

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly (Sun-Mi Hwang); The Vegetarian (Han Kang)
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly (Sun-Mi Hwang); The Vegetarian (Kang Han)

The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a bestseller in the UK and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Hwang Sun-mi was also an international Bestseller in 2014. I hope that newly translated titles can follow in their footsteps and be competitive in the world market.

Do you have a favourite English Novel (that has been translated into Korean?)

‘Essays in Love’ by Alain de Botton is one of my favourites, he is a well-known writer in Korea as well, I think his books are both compelling and insightful.

A big thank you to the Korean Cultural Centre and to Director Kabsoo Kim, for taking the time to speak with us. If you are living in the UK, London and would like to get involved with the KLN nights, please see the link below to the KCC’s website.

Coming soon, Series 2: The audiences reaction to Korean Liteature.

Further reading

Korean Cultural Centre UK
LTI Korea
Korea Net Blog Reports on the London Book Fair
Author Krys Lee interviewed at the London Book Fair

Note names of authors have been depicted as: First Name, Family Name.

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