Saturday, February 19, 2011

Overseas authors introduce Korea to the world

Recently, two overseas writers have been spotlighted by the media for introducing Korean culture and history to the world through their books. (Left: Linda Sue Park (Yonhap News))

Though they were not born or raised in Korea, they have one thing in common: a strong literary passion for Korean culture and history.

Linda Sue Park, an award-winning Korean-American children’s novelist, and Emanuel Pastreich, a U.S. professor teaching in Korea, have helped bring international attention to Korea and its past through their works.

With her book, "A Single Shard," in 2002, Park became the first Asian-American author to win the prestigious Newbery Medal Book, one of the most prestigious children's literature prizes. The story of a potter in the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since winning the award. Last year, Park's latest book, "Storm Warning," sold 400 thousand copies.

Recently, Park visited Korea on February 12 to mark the publisher's 90th anniversary with lectures, interviews, fan meetings and other events. This was her second trip to the country since her first visit nine years ago.

In an interview with Yonhap News on Feb. 13, Park said that she decided to write novels to introduce Korean culture to Americans after she discovered the beauty of Korean culture. A photo of Goryeo celadon she found in a library book inspired her to write "A Single Shard."

Park has written about Korean-American children and Korean culture and history in seven of her nine published books, including "Seesaw Girl," "The Kite Fighters," "When My Name Was Keoko" and "Archer's Quest." Her books are used as study materials for Asian history classes in junior high schools in United States, introducing Korean culture and history to American children. Emanuel Pastreich, a U.S. professor who also writes under the Korean name "Yi Man-yeol," recently published an English translation of ten short stories from "The Novels of Park Jiwon" (1737-1805). Park, also known as his pen name "Yeonam," was a leading "Silhak" (School of Practical Learning) scholar during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). (Right: Professor Emanuel Pastreich (from the Solbridge School of Business in Daejeon))

Pastreich is the first person to translate all Yeonam’s novels into English, including "The Tale of the Horse Traders," "The Tale of the Yangban Scholar," "The Tale of Student Heo" and "An Upbraiding by the Tiger."

Pastreich first learned about Park and his works in 1995, when he came to Seoul National University as an exchange student from Harvard University, where he studied classical East Asian literature.

In a recent interview with the Donga Ilbo on Feb.10, a major Korean daily newspaper, Pastreich said Park's stories are charming and show the scholar's realistic insights and contributions to the modernization of the Joseon Dynasty, and his belief that he could change people’s mindsets through his novels.

Pastreich spoke of Park’s sympathy with the lower classes in the Joseon Dynasty as a major characteristic of the scholar’s novels. Detailed descriptions of farmers, beggars, widows and laborers t are not easily found in other Joseon literary works, said Pastreich.(Left: The cover of "The Novels of Park Jiwon" (courtesy of Seoul National University Press))

The professor said he plans to sell his books in both online and offline book shops, in hopes that greater exposure will lead to a re-evaluation of Park and Joseon literature in the West.

Pastreich is currently serving as the director of the Asia Institute at the Solbridge School of Business in Daejeon, Korea. He received his M.A. from the University of Tokyo and Yale College and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He also served as the Minister for Political Affairs at the Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the United States and has taught at several universities, including Harvard University and the University of Illinois.


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