In the midst of an upsurge in the popularity of Korean pop music, television programs and movies in the United States, Korean literature is found to be as much of an obscure topic as it was before. According to a Korean American translator, Jenny Wang Medina, the problem with this situation is that music, soaps, and movies convey only part of the Korean culture, which would be better explained and shared by means of Korea’s literature.
The United States is not particularly prone to consuming translated literature, with only 3% of its literary market being translated literature, and only 0.7% of it being literary fiction and poetry. However, if you asked an American citizen interested in literature, or at least partly immersed in the literary world, about Japanese or Russian authors, many would come up with at least one name, states Charles Montgomery. Currently based in Seoul, Montgomery is an editor and professor who currently runs a blog which discusses Korean literature, works, and authors. He further added that people generally cannot come up with an author identified with Korean literature.
Reasons for the Difficulties
This lack of information about Korean literature and the lack of access to English translations of the works are caused by a number of reasons. The main problem comes from translation: Generally, Korean-English translations rely too much on the literal meaning of the original, forgetting about the literary character of the work. The main reason why this happens is that the majority of the translators are translating from their first language, Korean, into their second language, English.
Another reason why Korean literature has found it hard to find a niche in the American market is the choice of works to translate, according to Montgomery. He specifically stated that topics such as romantic fiction did not translate well into English due to being too different from what the American public expected to find in that type of work. Instead, he suggested spy literature to be translated instead, which he predicted would be of more interest to American readers. The lack of understanding of the American market is impeding Korean works from gaining a place among the country’s readers, proven by the success international Korean authors have found after working with American agents.