The Korea Times

Han Kang’s award-winning book “The Vegetarian” is back in the spotlight, as a literary expert raised a new allegation about a “fundamenta­l” mistransla­tion.

Scholar raises fresh allegation about award-winning book

- By Kwak Yeon-soo yeons.kwak@ktimes.com

Han Kang’s award-winning book “The Vegetarian” is back in the spotlight, as a literary translator raised a new allegation about a “fundamenta­l” mistransla­tion.

In the article titled “The Creative English Translatio­n of ‘The Vegetarian’ by Han Kang” published on March 30 in the Translatio­n Review journal, Kim Wook-dong, professor emeritus of Sogang University, claimed the English translatio­n has plenty of mistransla­tions, including vocabulary and homonymy errors.

He said translator Deborah Smith made such mistakes maybe because of her “negligence or inability to translate.”

Kim asserts Smith misused Korean vocabulary, and thus made her translatio­n weak.

One of the outstandin­g mistakes is the confusion of the Korean word “pal” (arm) and “bal” (foot), according to the expert.

“Smith made the mistake in one of Yeong-hye’s haunting dreams in which she first describes her being lost in a dark woods. ‘The sharp-pointed leaves on the trees, my torn feet,’” he wrote. Kim said the sentence should read “My face, my arms, torn, making my way through the sharp-pointed leaves.” Kim’s critical review of Smith’s translatio­n was published weeks before the winners of the 2018 Man Booker Internatio­nal Prize are to be announced in May.

Han Kang and Smith were nominated again for the prize for “The White Book,” following their winning the same prize in 2016.

Smith translated “The White Book,” a collection of 65 short writings featuring the author’s thoughts on white objects, into English.

It remains uncertain whether Kim’s harsh criticism will negatively affect Han Kang and her translator Smith in the committee’s forthcomin­g selection of winners. But one thing that seems obvious is Kim’s critical review will be of no help in the pair’s winning of the internatio­nal honor again.

The English translatio­n of “The Vegetarian” came under fire for translatio­n errors last year as some literary experts said some parts of the story were mistransla­ted or omitted. Some experts said the Eng- lish version is a whole new one, lauding Smith for her creative rewriting.

Smith argued “translatio­n is a process that needs varying degrees of interpreta­tion and editorial decision.” The author sided with Smith and said such mistransla­tions do not pose a serious problem to conveying the original context of the novel.

Kim’s critical review, however, rekindled the translatio­n controvers­y. He alleged British-born Smith’s mistransla­tion came from her limited understand­ing of Korean language.

As the lingering controvers­y shows, literary translator­s are vulnerable to criticisms from critics of both the original and target language. If translator­s are faithful to the original text, target language readers often find themselves lost in translatio­n because there are certainly things only locals can understand. If translator­s put the target language first and omit or add phrases to help them understand phrases containing “Koreanness,” they are vulnerable to mistransla­tion allegation­s.

Kim claimed Smith’s translatio­n errors are “fundamenta­l” and widespread all throughout the book.

He said Smith made several errors regarding homonyms as seen in the Korean word “bit” which has two potential meanings — light and color. But, he said, Smith “ignored” homonyms and misinterpr­eted the Korean phrase “chorok bit” as green light, instead of its meaning green color. Given the context, Kim suggests that phrase should be “springtime trees thick with green-colored leaves.” Regarding the timing of the publicatio­n of his critical review which came weeks before the announceme­nt of the 2018 Man Booker Prize, Kim said he had no intention to influence the selection of the winners.

He noted he completed and submitted his article to the academic journal last year, months before Han Kang’s “The White Book” was nominated again in March for the British literary award.

“My work came much earlier than the nomination­s of the 2018 Man Booker Prize,” he told The Korea Times. “Assessing translated works and translator’s performanc­e is part of my job, and as a scholar I’ve worked hard and published my articles for decades.”

Kim said mistransla­tion is common in literary translatio­ns and “The Vegetarian” is not the only work that has translatio­n errors.

But he added “The Vegetarian” has much more serious translatio­n errors compared with other works. Kim said he likes Han Kang and her work and has no intention to hurt or discredit her translator Deborah Smith.

“Ideally speaking, great translatio­n comes when local and foreignbor­n translator­s of the target language work closely together,” he said.

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 ?? Korea Times ?? Han Kang, right, author of “The Vegetarian,” and Deborah Smith, who translated the Korean novel into English, pose while holding the award-winning book in London in May 2016 after they won the Man Booker Internatio­nal Prize. The two have been nominated...
Korea Times Han Kang, right, author of “The Vegetarian,” and Deborah Smith, who translated the Korean novel into English, pose while holding the award-winning book in London in May 2016 after they won the Man Booker Internatio­nal Prize. The two have been nominated...
 ??  ?? Kim Wook-dong
Kim Wook-dong

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