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Korean literature has distant outpost in Poland

Korean literature has distant outpost in Poland

Marzena Stefanska discusses her love for Korean women writers, publishing Korean literature in her country

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Published : 2013-06-27 22:01
Updated : 2013-06-27 22:01

Before Polish publisher Marzena Stefanska founded her own publishing company, Kwiaty Orientu, in 2007, there were only 15 Polish-language books about Korea available in her home country.

Stefanska, who studied Korean literature at the University of Warsaw, initially wanted to work as a full-time Korean-Polish translator. She decided to found a publishing company after finding it difficult to find publishers to release her translated works.

Since 2007, Stefanska has introduced some 20 works of Korean literature in her home country, including short stories by celebrated Korean author Kim Young-ha and writer Oh Jung-hee. The Polish edition of author Hwang Sun-mi’s children’s novel, “Leafie, a Hen into the Wild,” published by Stefanska’s publishing house, was named the “Best Book of Spring 2012” (Najlepsza ksika na wiosne 2012) by Granice.pl, a renowned literary organization in Poland.

Stefanska said she pays special attention to Korea’s women writers, especially Gong Ji-young, Shin Kyung-sook and Oh Jung-hee.

“I think author Shin is very soft and romantic compared to Gong and Oh,” Stefanska told The Korea Herald during an interview in Seoul last week. She was in Korea to attend the Literature Translation Institute of Korea’s International Workshop for Translation and Publication of Korean Literature, which took place in southern Seoul last Friday. 
Polish publisher Marzena Stefanska poses for a photo during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (LTI Korea)

“Shin really plays with your emotions, whereas Gong and Oh use strong expressions in comparison. Many of Gong’s works deal with social issues, while Oh’s writing also touches on subject matters such as homosexuality and disability.”

Last Thursday, the Polish edition of Gong’s 2005 novel “Our Happy Time” was released in Poland by Stefanska’s Kwiaty Orientu. The novel, which deals with a convicted murderer on death row who forms a friendship with a well-off but suicidal young woman, received rave reviews from Korean readers when it came out in 2005. Its film adaptation, which stars actor Kang Dong-won and actress Lee Na-young, was released in 2006, and enjoyed box office success as well.

“The book has been receiving a lot of attention from the local press in Poland even before hitting the bookstores,” she said. “I think it has a lot to do with its subject matter. Death penalty is an international subject. It’s been talked about on the news. There are films about it. And the novel’s own film adaptation is certainly useful when it comes to marketing in Poland.”

The publisher also plans to publish author Han Kang’s 2007 work “Vegetarian,” a sensual novel about a video artist who finds himself obsessed with his sister-in-law after she stops eating meat, in November.

One of the highlights of Stefanska’s career as a publisher specializing in Korean literature was author Shin Kyung-sook’s visit to Poland in 2011. The writer was on a book tour to promote her international bestseller “Please Look after Mom.” The Polish edition of the novel was published by Stefanska’s publishing house.

“She came with her husband,” Stefanska said. “Shin was very easy and nice to talk to. She was already quite famous by the time she arrived in Poland, but she was just a normal, nice person. I don’t think she changed because of the (international) success.”

Stefanska said there is growing interest in the Korean language in Poland, but the interest is not necessarily in Korean literature.

“People are interested in working for LG or Samsung,” she said. “But there aren’t that many Korean-Polish translators in the country. Korean cultural institutions in Poland should pay more attention to promoting Korean literature, not just K-pop.”

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)

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