Translated Lit in the Shadows

Over the last few weeks I have gone into hibernation, I just want to be warm and sleep for days on end. So I’ve been feeling like I’ve been slacking a bit, and not just in terms of the blog… My reading lists for this month (or year) didn’t get completed because I suddenly got really busy doing other life things and neglected reading. I  also got Netflix so that didn’t help much. It also looks like I wont be finishing my goodreads reading challenge for the year.

On the bright side though…maybe its quality over quantity?! This year, I have read more widely than before and took my passion for literature and its power for representation more seriously (et voila this blog!). I have also recently started a book club with a few like-minded friends scattered around the globe. I’m really excited about it and the possibility of reading more widely and getting  to know everyone’s taste in literature.

The first book of our book club is ‘One Hundred Shadows’, another Tilted Axis publication, a Korean translation written by Hwang Jungeun and translated by Jung Yewon.

OHS is about of Eungyo and Mujae and their growing relationship, the changing landscape of urban cosmopolitan cities and specifically the electronics park that they both work in. Although it is a very short book, it took me a while to read because of the slow and slightly confusing narrative. The book only starts getting interesting halfway through when you realise that the author has merged the urban, technological and modern city with supernatural folklore. It paints a unique picture of the city that is both surrounded by modern technology and also supernatural forces that threaten to lead your mind and body astray.

This book explores both socio-economic struggles of the modern city; such as poverty and loneliness but also philosophical issues through the metaphor of the ‘shadow’. Here, shadows are dangerous malignant forces that can detach themselves for your body. Everybody in in the OHS world is wary of their shadow ‘rising’ away from their body and leading them astray, almost to the point that it strips you of who you really are. Instead of being inanimate products of light, reflection and darkness, shadows are the very essence of you… it makes you think what is my shadow? What is the one thing that if taken away from me would strip me of my life but leave me alive?

As I mentioned this was a slow read for me, I didn’t feel fully drawn in and wanted the characters to be developed a bit more. However, I wonder if that’s because it is a piece of translation and because I don’t speak/read Korean I missed out on a lot of the cultural knowledge required to appreciate this work fully. For me language is more than the written word but a set of cultural and historical codes. Even Yewon, who translated this, said in an interview that she “was almost sad that I couldn’t just have people learn Korean and read this book in the original”[1]. Do you guys read translated works of fiction? How do you feel about it?



  1. I find that my enjoyment of translated literature hinges on the translation itself. However, I am not educated enough into know good translators from bad. I’m sorry this wasn’t quite what you wanted it to be. Hopefully future translations will be better! Has your book club picked heir next book?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh man, I am looking forward to this title. I hope it appeals to me though I am sorry it didn’t work out for you. I have translated Korean into English and often it’s a slippery slope to navigate. You often have to change the wording entirely to express the nuance.

    (Also, I thought I should point out that spirit animals are sacred and exclusive to the First Nations community.)


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