The ambassadors of Sweden and Ireland jointly hosted Kevin O’Rourke, a perennial expatriate and translator of thousands of Korean poems, in the Seoul Literary Society’s first reception of the year held at the Irish ambassador’s residence in Seongbuk-dong, Seoul, Wednesday.
O’Rourke, a Columban missionary, spoke before a packed house of expatriates, foreign envoys and local VIPs. He talked at length about Korean literature, literati and the social transformation of this country, during the 33rd gathering of the group of Korean literature enthusiasts, which is usually organized by the Swedish Embassy.
“What is it like to leave your home and travel to the other side of the world and live there for 50 years?” asked Irish Ambassador to South Korea Aingeal O’Donoghue as a way of introducing O’Rourke in her welcome remarks.
“What is it like to enter into a journey of discovery of that new country, of its language, literature and culture, and to grow to love and understand it, and to live in that country as it goes through enormous cultural, social and political changes? These are some of the themes Kevin addresses in his book.”
The Irish priest said his recent publication, “My Korea: 40 Years Without a Horsehair Hat,” reflects on his many years here, and is a “cultural introduction to Korea, part memoir part miscellany, which introduces traditional and contemporary culture through a series of essays, stories and anecdotes and poems.”
O’Rourke first arrived in South Korea in 1964, a half century ago. He studied Korean language at Yonsei University’s Korean language institute, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Korean literature at Yonsei in 1982. He is professor emeritus at Kyung Hee University.
He said his book is neither a memoir, though he talks at length about his personal experiences living through 50 years of tremendous change, nor a history of Korean literature although the book is also replete with literary expository.
He described his new book as “rightly or wrongly, a miscellany,” adding it is “not so much as simple but as symbolic truth, kind of correlative to 40 years of cross-cultural experience.”
By Philip Iglauer (email@example.com)