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Culture Vulture (25-11-2015)

Update: November, 25/2015 - 08:24

Seven Years of Darkness (7 Nam Bong Toi)

Translator Vu Kim Ngan was among four people who recently received the Korean Literature Translation Awards.

Ngan translated Jeong Yu-jeong's Seven Years of Darkness into Vietnamese (7 Nam Bong Toi).

This year's winners included Lee Tae-yeon and the late Genevieve Roux-Faucard, who co-translated Han Kang's Breath Fighting into French (Pars, le Vent se Leve); Kwon Eun-hee and Sung Cho-rim, who co-translated Bae Soo-ah's Sunday Sukiyaki Restaurant into Spanish (El Restaurante de Sukiyaki); and Andrea De Benedittis, who translated Kim Young-ha's I Have a Right to Destroy Myself into Italian (Ho Il Diritto di Distruggermi).

Ngan chats with Culture Vulture about the honour and her passion:

Could you tell me about your translation of Seven Years of Darkness, and the novel?

The task came to me by chance through Alpha Books Company. This is a long novel with fairly complicated content containing some special knowledge on rugby, diving and hydro-electricity. I spared no efforts to translate it. There were some difficult details that were too challenging for me. I had to search the internet widely and asked for help from South Korean friends and the social network.

Author Jeong has been judged as a person who "opened a new sky to novels". Seven Years of Darkness is one of her novels that created a "fever" when it was first launched in 2011 and was a best-seller. The work has been considered a "psychological tragedy in the Shakespeare mould" and "has all the features of a good novel".

Could you tell me more about the prize?

The Korean Literature Translation Awards are presented by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea biennially between 1993 and 2013. Since 2013, it has been turned into an annual event. The organisers select translation works published outside South Korea, which then undergo various qualifying rounds judged by both Korean and local judging members.

I am very surprised and happy to be a winner this year. This is the first time in the 20-year history of the awards that a Vietnamese translation novel has won. Three other winning works this year have been translated into European languages. Two novels translated into French and Spanish languages were completed by two pairs of well-experienced translators. It is a great honour for me to be the youngest winner this year.

Could you tell me about your translation career?

I started to learn the Korean language in 2001, at the beginning of the "Korean wave", when many Korean language teaching centres mushroomed in Viet Nam. I have studied some other languages but I specially love Korean. Though my main career does not involve the Korean language, I have retained my joy of self-learning Korean for the past ten years. In 2013, after attempting to translate some novels from the Korean language, I figured out that this was my interest. Then I began contacting some publishers and distribution companies. By the end of 2014, I had a chance to translate Seven Years of Darkness. This year, I translated two more novels and two essays. I think Korean language learners nowadays have a lot of advantages thanks to many opportunities of approaching the language and culture through cinema, music and daily life.

What do you think are challenges to translators in Viet Nam? How do you expect to be supported to better fulfil your translation task?

Language bears both a long history, and cultural depth, develops continuously and changes following modern life. Thus, I think any translator would be bogged down by obstacles and needs explanations and discussions. I hope there are more links with associations or forums connecting translators.

I hope that not only are Korean works translated into the Vietnamese language but Vietnamese literature is also translated into Korean.

After Seven Years of Darkness, I published another translation novel by Cheon Myung-kwan titled The Ageing Family. In a few months, a collection of essays by Kim Nan-do and a comic essay by Shim Seung-hyun will hit the book shelves. I'm now translating a novel by Pyun Hye-young. — VNS

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