- Instituto Gentil de Faria

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- Instituto Gentil de Faria
Beyond the Stereotypes of Orientalism: the Literary Image of Korea in Brazil
Gentil de Faria
São Paulo State University (Unesp), Brazil
The earliest reference on Korea in Brazil is in a chronicle by Olavo Bilac (1865-1918),
published in the newspaper Correio Paulistano of April 23, 1908. At that time, the poet held
the post of school inspector, and in that position he decided to organize a census of students
enrolled in public primary schools across the country. Bilac tells of his frustration with his
initiative, “For duty of office, and with patriotic purpose, I'm almost two years ago organizing
a census of students enrolled in public primary schools throughout Brazil. And yet I find
myself away from completion of work, and never even know if I'll get to complete it. In five
states I still have not received a single information” (Dimas, p.164).
The poet attributes the negligence not for the laziness of Brazilians, but for the fear of
census. “We fear the census”, he explains, “fear of being caught up by taxes. According to
him, this behavior is the cause of the humiliating ranking of Brazil, placed between Korea and
Congo, in terms of sloth and indifference – “below China and Turkey!” he exclaims.
Bilac, acting as a journalist, was aware of such data through a preface of Almanach de
Gotha, a sophisticated European publication of that time. Since Korea, Congo, China and
Turkey were poor countries far remote from Europe, it was shameful for Brazil, according to
him, be placed next to those nations on laziness and indifference.
Immigration
According to official data, the Korean immigration in Brazil had its start on February
12, 1963.1 But before that day small groups of Koreans who had been prisoners in the Korean
War (1950-53), had come to Brazil. The first immigrants (103 people) came in the condition
of agricultural settlers and landed in the port of Santos, State of São Paulo. In many cases,
immigration was illegal and had a hidden purpose, which was to stay shortly in the new
country and soon after moving to the U.S., where the immigrants intended to establish
permanent residence.
1 In this date, the Korean community in São Paulo celebrates the "Day of Korean Immigration".
2
Despite the attraction exerted by the so-called American Way of Life, many Koreans
chose to stay in Brazil, especially in large cities, setting up their economic activities in the
field of clothing industry and trade. The Korean presence in this line of activity is quite
significant. It is estimated that around one third of female fashion in São Paulo is of Korean
origin, and that about 70% of the Korean community is involved with purchase, sale and
production of garments.
In absolute terms, it is estimated that today over one hundred thousand Koreans and
descendants are living in Brazil, the vast majority in São Paulo city. Even having a large
quantity of people, the presence of the Korean community in Brazil has been the subject of
few publications over almost 50 years of cultural and commercial relations. Most of these
studies were the results of academic research with the aim of obtaining a college degree.
Two master’s theses2 were produced at the University of São Paulo: Choi (1991) and
Kang (1993). Choi provides a lively historical account of Korean immigration, and does not
hesitate to point out the pioneering spirit of her academic work, "There is no specific study on
Koreans in Brazil, both here and in Korea"3 (p. 3). In her study, she examines the problems of
social adjustment experienced by Koreans and the bad reputation the colony suffered with its
image associated with the activities of smuggling, drugs, gambling and sex exploitation of
women. Accordingly, it was common to hear jokes about Korean immigrants that reinforced
the national discriminatory stereotypes.
Kang, herself an immigrant, held interviews with eight young people – five women
and three men – born in Korea and aged 18 to 25 years. They were all residents in São Paulo
who had completed primary education in Brazil. Her thesis deals with the difficulties of social
integration of young immigrants with their parents and the relationship with Brazilian friends
of the same age. She noted that the Korean parents exerted considerable control over their
children and hindered the rapprochement with Brazilians, so the marriage between Koreans
2 Lytton (2009) mentions two other theses defended at the University of Brasília: LEE, Sang-Ki - Brasil e
Coreia do Sul: Aspectos político-econômicos do relacionamento bilateral [Brazil and South Korea: Political and
Economic Aspects of Bilateral Relations], and WOO, Young-Sun – O relacionamento Brasil-Coreia no período
de 1988-2001 [Brazil-Korea Relations During the Period of 1988-2001]. A fifth MA thesis is quoted by IM
(2009) written by KIM, Hyung Mi. Hanguk Yonsok: Nas salas de vídeo, uma janela para a Coreia – Etnografia
do Conteúdo Simbólico das Novelas Coreanas [Hanguk Yonsok: In the video rooms, a window for Korea –
Ethnography of the symbolic content of Korean soap operas], also defended at the University of São Paulo.
3
“Não há nenhum estudo específico sobre os coreanos no Brasil, tanto aqui como na Coreia”. All translations
are mine.
3
and Brazilians was avoided and unacceptable. Parents were conservative and against the
marriage with a non-Korean or at least a non-Asian descendents. In this respect, the old hatred
of Koreans against Japanese because of the long occupation was not reproduced in Brazil.
A colorful almanac, full of illustrations, facts and curiosities was written by Kim Yoo
Na (2008) to celebrate the 45th anniversary of immigration. In one of the sections, entitled
“Perfis coreanos-brasileiros” [Profile Korean-Brazilians], ten people (eight men and two
women) are considered examples of those immigrants who are successful in Brazil even
without committing themselves to the garment industry. They belong to a variety of
professions: magician, judge, architect, airplane pilot, gospel singer, advertiser, franchise
restaurant owner, photographer, reporter and a president of a large company.4
With the purpose of surveying the second generation of Koreans in Brazil, the Korean
Studies Group interviewed 106 Korean-Brazilian high school students (born between 1991
and 1993, 15 to 18 years old as of 2008) born in Brazil from Korean parents (father and
mother). The results of these questionnaires are available on the Internet.5 Some research data
call the reader’s attention. Despite being Brazilian by birth and living in Brazil for over 15
years, 62% consider themselves more Korean than Brazilian. The overwhelming majorities of
these youngsters speak Korean, eat Korean food and listen to Korean music every day. The
discrimination is still very high; 60% still consider the Korean community to be discriminated
in Brazil. But paradoxically when asked if they wish to immigrate to Korea, 86% of them
answered “no.”
In an article published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, entitled “Imigração
coreana transforma bairro de SP” [Korean immigration transforms São Paulo borough];
Débora Yury (2005) noted the massive Korean presence (2/3 of the trade and garment
industry) in Bom Retiro, a lower middle class borough. But found many families were
moving out of this borough to live in Morumbi, Higienópolis, and especially, Aclimação,
neighborhoods with higher standard of living.
Being enthusiastic about the subject she writers, the reporter quotes the president of
the Brazilian Association of Koreans – Chul Un Kim – saying that the best thermometer to
4
It is disappointing that Yun Jung Im, a brilliant scholar, was not included in the list of successful Korean
immigrants. Obviously, the selection criteria did not take into account the intellectual work.
5
See: Im, Yun Jung, et al. The Second Generation of Koreans in Brazil: A Portrait.
www.international.ucla.edu/.../JRP-2008-2009-Im-2nd-Generation-Brazil.pdf.
4
measure the nationality of the immigrant or descendant is the food, “When you get to eat rice
with beans and manioc flour [a typical and very popular Brazilian dish] every week, you
know that one has become a Brazilian” (p. C8).6
Even today, the Korean community in Brazil still remains a culturally closed society.
The immigrants avoid mixing with Brazilians, who, on the other hand, complain that Koreans
are isolating and cold people that speak only their language among themselves, and make no
effort to speak Portuguese when a Brazilian is taking part in the conversation.
Interracional marriages are still taboo. In this respect the statement of a taxi driver with
four decades working in Bom Retiro is emblematic, "Koreans are still a little afraid to mix
with Brazilians”, he says. (YURI, p. C8). The crucial dilemma of a complete integration is
supported by a young women interviewed by Kang, “Since childhood, I thought I could even
have a Brazilian as my boyfriend, but to marry one must be a Korean”, and concludes, “I will
feel better marrying a Korean. First, because our culture is the same; and second, he will
understand our habits”.7
Over time, this cultural friction has been decreasing, and gradually Brazilians and
Koreans will be integrating a cosmopolitan community. The feeling rooted in the homeland is
exemplified by Bong Jun-Kimou Paulo, 69, born in North Korea living in Brazil for forty
years, in an interview to the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo (Merguizo 2010) two days before
the soccer match between Brazil and North Korea at World Cup 2010,
In the community there are no North Koreans or South Koreans. Nobody says he/she
is North Korean. There is no immigrant from the North. I mean, there is in thought, there is in
feeling (he points to the head and chest) (…) In the Cup I am North Korea. There´s no way…
(He laughs). Can someone force to cheer for another country? It is feeling. Against Brazil, I
cheer for Korea. But when Brazil plays against another nation, I will cheer for Brazil. I’ve been
here for 40 years. My son and grandson are Brazilians. Other games? I'll cheer for North
Korea, South Korea and Brazil. Koreans struggle for peace. I hope to see the Koreas together,
only one Korea. My story is sad. This story is sad. Not the fault of Koreans. God will resolve
the matter at any time. But I wonder if I’ll see.8
6
“Quando você começa a comer arroz com feijão e farofa toda semana, sabe que já virou brasileiro”.
7
“Eu vou me sentir melhor casando com coreano. Primeiro, porque nossa cultura é igual; segundo, ele vai
entender os nossos costumes” (p. 135).
8
“Na comunidade, não há norte-coreanos ou sul-coreanos. Ninguém fala que é norte-coreano. Não há imigrantes
vindos do Norte. Quer dizer, há em pensamento, em sentimento [aponta para a cabeça e para o peito]. (...) Na
Copa, sou Coreia do Norte. Não tem jeito... [sorri]. Podem obrigar alguém a torcer por outro país? É sentimento.
Contra o Brasil, também vou torcer pela Coreia. Mas quando o Brasil jogar contra outra seleção, torcerei pelo
Brasil. Já são 40 anos aqui, NE? Meu filho e meu neto são brasileiros. Os outros jogos? Vou torcer pela Coreia
5
Merguizo reproduces official data of Korean immigration provided by the Federal
Police. According to recent statistics, there are 18.213 South Koreans registered in Brazil,
16,325 in the state of São Paulo (15,144 in the city of São Paulo). The Korean community,
immigrants and descendants, is estimated at 50 thousand people. The North Koreans legally in
the country, also according to FP, are 29 thousand.
Outside the issue of immigration, which has attracted considerable attention in
academic works, there are some articles published in newspaper, journal or presented at
conferences. Most of them deal mainly with the economic growth9 of Korea and the
investment in Brazil by gigantic corporations, such as Hyundai, Daewoo, POSCO, Samsung,
LG, Kia Motors, and others.
If trade relations between Brazil and Korea are already well established, cultural
exchanges are still in growth on both sides. In Korea, Hankook University of Foreign Studies
(HUFS) through the College of Occidental Languages (Department of Portuguese) offers a
Master’s Degree Program in Portuguese Language and Literature since 1985. Pusan
University of Foreign Studies has an undergraduate program in Portuguese since 1987, and a
Master’s program has just been created in 2010.
In Brazil, the cultural interest in Korea begins to strengthen. A group of college
teachers, led by Yun Yung Im, started a large project that aims to create an undergraduate
program in Korean Language and Literature at the University of São Paulo, the most
prestigious Brazilian university. The sound proposal has received expressions of support from
various entities, including the Korean Embassy, the Consulate in São Paulo, Korea
Foundation, Academy of Korean Studies, Center for Korean Studies (UCLA), and Brazilian
organizations. In 2006 Korean Language I and II began to be offered as optional elective
disciplines that have attracted much interest from students of Oriental Languages.
This initiative is the realization of an old desire of teachers to create an undergraduate
regular course in Korean Studies, which began in 1990 with the extension courses of Korean
do Norte, pela Coreia do Sul e pelo Brasil. Coreano luta pela paz. Espero voltar a ver as Coreias juntas, uma só
Coreia. Minha história é triste. Essa história é triste. Não é culpa dos coreanos. Deus resolverá o assunto a
qualquer momento. Mas não sei se verei”.
9
In the field of economics, there is a book by Otaviano Canuto, Brasil e Coreia do Sul: os (des)caminhos da
industrialização tardia [Brazil and South Korea: (non) paths of late industrialization]. São Paulo: Nobel, 1994),
his former Ph.D. Dissertation defended at Unicamp. The author makes a comparative analysis of the processes of
industrialization in South Korea and Brazil.
6
Language and Culture with support from Korean Culture & Arts Foundation. Sixteen years
after the courses Korean Language I and II began to appear as elective disciplines in the
curriculum of the university. From then on, the number of students interested in Korean
culture has grown over the years.
Literature
Jean-Marie Gustave le Clezio, the 2008 Nobel Literature Prize and teacher of French
language and literature at Ewha Womans University in Seoul for two semesters, said in an
interview to JoongAng Ilbo: “To the French, Korea has this rigid image that comes from the
history of the Korean War, but when I read the work of young Korean writers, I can see that
this is a stereotype” (Farber, 2008), citing Han Gang and Kim Ae-ram as examples. Le Clezio
acknowledges that is a big fan of the late poet Yoon Dong-Ju (1917-1945) and the novelist
Hwang Sok-Yong (1943- ).
The view of Le Clezio may also be applied to Brazilians. Indeed, the Korean War was
a hideous event and left deep scars in Korean history and culture. But if someone comes into
contact with the modern Korean literature, will be surprised to see the high quality of the
writers of the 20th century onwards.
The Korean literature has only been known in Brazil since the mid 1980s. This
happened with a slim book Contos coreanos [Korean short stories] published in 1985. It is a
collection of ten short stories by nine contemporary writers translated by Luís Palmery, and
revised by Pina de Oliveira Bastos. The writers and the texts translated are the following:
•
Ha Kun-Chan (1931- ) – “O sofrimento de duas gerações” (The suffering of two
generations)10;
•
Kim Tong-Ni (1913 –1995) – “A rocha” (The rock);
•
Kim Tong-In (1900-1951) – “Batatas” (Potatoes, also Potato);
•
Kim Yu-Jong (1908-1937) – “Tempo de Camélias” (Camellia Blossom);
•
Son Chang-Sup (1922- ) – “Sonho abandonado” (A washed out dream);
•
Hwang Sun-Won (1915-2000) – “Aguaceiro”11, (Rain Shower), “Estrelas”, (Stars);
•
Han Mu-Suk12 (1918-) – “K”;
10
All translations of titles are from publications in English.
11
Yun translated this title as “Chuva de verão”.
7
•
Cho Sun-Jak (1940-) – “Tapume pintado” (The Wall).
•
Choi In-Ho (1945-) - “O outro quarto”13 (Another Man’s Room).
Gerardo Mello Mourão, who wrote a short foreword to the book, draws attention to the
novelty of Korean short stories among us, “A literature hitherto unknown in Brazil”, he says.
He does not provide any information about the texts and not on the translator, who "lives for
many years in Seoul." The publication of these translations has achieved little attention. There
are very few references about them and the translator. Marcelo Abreu (2010) adds the
translator is a diplomat and the texts are translated from English version.14
Korean Poetry arrived in Brazil through a bilingual edition of an anthology of short poems
by 40 poets of the 20th century made by Yun Jung Im (1993). Each poet had one or more
poem translated, but only five of them deserved the translation of six poems, namely
•
Kim So-Wor (1902-1934) – “National unanimity as the most beloved poet of
Korea”15;
•
Yi Sang (1910-1937) – “His behavior and his poetry aggressively challenged the
conventions, causing much outrage at the time”.16
•
Bak Du-Jin (1916-1998) – “Nature was for him the salvation of corrupted
mankind ”17;
•
Yun Dong-Ju (1917-1945), – “Today he is considered a true monument that
illuminates the dark era of Japanese occupation”18;
•
Kim Tchun-Su (1922-2004) – “He had a very successful career, receiving
numerous important awards from the literary milieu”19.
The foreword to this collection of poems was written by Paulo Leminski (1944-1989), a
prolific writer and cultural agitator from the 1960s to 1980s. His extensive bibliography
includes poetry, novels, short stories, plays, television scripts, critical essays, newspaper
12
The author’s name appears mistakenly as Han Mahl-Sook, who is another Korean woman writer. The
biographical data in the footnote belong to Han Mu-Suk, also written Han Moon-Sook in some English editions.
13
“O quarto de outrem” in Yun’s translation.
14
This information is not in the book.
15
“Unanimidade nacional como o poeta mais amado da Coreia” (p. 120).
16
“O seu comportamento bem como a sua poesia desafiaram agressivamente as convenções, causando muita
indignação na época”.
17
“A natureza era para ele a salvação da humanidade corrompida” (p.124).
18
“Hoje é considerado um verdadeiro monumento que ilumina a época negra da ocupação japonesa” (p. 125).
19
“Teve uma carreira muito bem sucedida, recebendo vários prêmios importantes do meio literário” (p.126).
8
articles and creative translations of James Joyce and Petronius. His most ambitious literary
work is Catatau, a novel that he labeled as “experimental prose”, published in 1975. He was
proud of his mixed descendent, he was son of a Polish father and a black mother. He died of
liver cirrhosis due to daily consumption of alcohol and drugs.
In the foreword, titled “Coreia: um país que se chama dança” [Korea: a country that is
called dance], Leminski makes an impressive comparison between Korea and Poland, the land
of his ancestors,
Korean poetry brings the fire, the mark of the people who produced it, the suffering
people from a thousand wars and a thousand invasions, sandwiched between China and Japan,
and by them invaded and oppressed. In this sense, the national condition of the Korean people
remembers too much the situation of Poland in Europe, a proud nation always squeezed
between the Germans on one side and the Russians on the other.
As the Poles, Koreans had much to fight to preserve their national character and their
cultural values.
Like the Polish language was banned by the Prussian or Russians rulers, the Korean
20
language came to be outlawed by the Japanese invaders.
Of all the 40 poets featured in the collection of poems, Leminski reveals his immediate
preference for one poet who drew attention to his acute sensibility and poetic kinship, "the
presence of a great poet, the revelation of the book for me, ever since my Korean modern
poet, the bohemian and surrealist Yi Sang, with surprising experimental poems”.21
The concrete Brazilian poet found his poetic alter ego in Yi Sang when he met the
following poems of the Korean poet in the collection: poems no. 1, 3, 4 and 15 from Crow’s
Eye View, and the fascinating and intriguing “Mirror”. It is unfortunate that Leminski have
died a year after having written the foreword. The book was published only four years after
his death. If this has not happened, he would surely have written more extensively about Yi
Sang his Korean poetic soul mate.
20
A poesia coreana traz, a fogo, a marca do povo que a produziu, um povo sofrido de mil guerras e mil invasões,
imprensado entre a China e o Japão, por eles invadido e oprimido. Nesse sentido, a condição nacional do povo
coreano lembra demais a situação da Polônia na Europa, nação orgulhosa sempre espremida entre os alemães de
um lado e os russos do outro.
Como os poloneses, os coreanos tiveram muito que lutar para preservar sua personalidade nacional e seus
valores culturais.
Assim como a língua polonesa foi proibida por dominadores prussianos ou russos, a língua coreana chegou a
ser proscrita pelos invasores japoneses (p. 13).
21
(...) a presença de um grande poeta, a revelação do livro para mim, desde já o meu poeta coreano moderno, o
boêmio e surrealista Yi Sang, com poemas experimentais surpreendentes (p. 14).
9
Shijo
The classic literature in the form of Shijo was the object of an anthology which brought
together 101 poems, translated by Yun and Marsicano (1994). This is another publication that
will arouse more fascination of a significant Brazilian poet. This time, Haroldo de Campos
(1929-2003), who wrote the foreword "The poetry of the country called dance", explicitly
inspired in Paul Leminski’s. Campos earned huge reputation in Brazil and abroad as a
Concrete poet and translator, or rather a “transcreator” of texts from several languages. His
basic idea of translation as a transcreative activity revolutionized the study of translation in
Brazil and abroad. His innovative ideas expanded the horizons of Translation Studies as an
academic discipline.
No Brazilian better than him to enjoy the simple beauty, smooth musicality and deep
sense of Korean Shijos. The reading of Korean fixed poems was a great revelation to Haroldo
de Campos who was fond of Japanese haikus and Chinese ideograms through the
acknowledged reception of Ezra Pound’s poetic devices. Fascinated by the translation into
Portuguese, he does not hesitate to consider it better than the one into English by Kevin
O'Rourke.
Comparing two English translations with the corresponding Portuguese, Harold says,
The economy of the solution obtained in Portuguese, its diction contained, the
effectiveness with which the image briefly oppositional dialectically unfolds in "poemsong",
all this makes me prefer the result achieved in our language, when confronted with the
transpositive work conducted in English, although this may be considered of good standard and
has been conscientiously carried to term by the professor-translator O'Rourke.22
Without adopting a provincial academic attitude, I must agree with Haroldo de
Campos. I also did the comparison of two translations, taking a different example, and
considered the Portuguese better than the English. My example is the famous “Song of Five
Friends”, by Yun Yun Sondo (1587-1671), regarded by most critics as the greatest of the
Shijo poets. O’Rourke’s translation reads,
22
A economia da solução obtida em português, sua dicção contida, a eficácia sucinta com que a imagem
opositiva se desdobra dialeticamente no "poemacanto", tudo isso faz-me preferir o resultado conseguido em
nossa língua, quando confrontado com o trabalho transpositivo realizado em inglês, ainda que este possa ser
considerado de bom nível e tenha sido conscienciosamente levado a termo pelo professor-tradutor O'Rourke
10
You ask how many friends I have?
Water, rocks, pine, and bamboo.
And when the moon rises over east mountain, I feel even
greater pleasure.
Enough:
to these five why add more? (p. 93)
The concise translation into Portuguese is as follows:
Quantos amigos tenho?
As águas e as pedras
os pinheiros
e os bambus
Quando a lua
surge no leste
me encho
de alegria
Convenhamos, com estes cinco,
de quem mais
eu preciso? (p.117)
Regarding the meaning and content the two translations are equivalent in quality, but as
form concerned the Brazilian kept the original structure in Korean, transforming the three
fixed lines into three short stanzas. Certainly the shijo became more visual e musical in
Portuguese.
Three year later, Haroldo de Campos (1997) praises once again the translation, “The
choice of a strophic form, visually governed by a central axis, was a happy discovery of the
duo Yun-Marsicano, helping to preserve the imagetic synthesis and elocutoria concision of
Korean poetry”. 23
23
A opção por uma forma estrófica, regida visualmente por um eixo central, foi um feliz
achado da dupla Yun-Marsicano, contribuindo para preservar a síntese imagética e a concisão
elocutória da poesia coreana.
11
Despite very convincing in his analysis, he is humble to admit his lack of knowledge
of Korean language, “I do not know the Korean language, which nevertheless attracts me by
its beauty and its intriguing and smooth writing. But I can appreciate the poetic outcome in
Portuguese of the work undertaken by Yun and Marsicano”.24
The enthusiastic welcome for her translation of excerpts from the work of Yi Sang
(1999) by renowned poets, such as Paulo Leminski and Haroldo de Campos, encouraged Yun
Jung Im to continue her task and offer a full translation of Crow’s-Eye View, plus some short
stories (including the amazing “Wings”) and other writings. The new superb edition includes
a large number of illuminating footnotes and important critical essays by leading scholars on
the Korean writer. Furthermore, it had the assistance of a great poet – Haroldo de Campos –
who made the poetic review of the translated poems. Since the publication of this well
praised translation25, the Brazilian reader has a kind of portable Yi Sang, enjoyably readable
in good Portuguese.
Last year, the tireless translator Yun Jung Im (2010) contributed once again to expand
the knowledge of Korean literature in Brazil, publishing another book of translation. This
time, she translated 10 stories by seven reputable contemporary writers – four men and three
women. To write the preface of the book, she chose the respected Slavicist scholar, Professor
Boris Schnaiderman, her colleague at University of São Paulo.
The authors and the short stories translated are the following,
•
Kim Chae-Won (1946- ) – “A ilusão de primavera” (Illusion of Spring);
•
Choi In-Ho (1945- ) – “O quarto de outrem” (Another Man’s Room);
•
Yi Chong-Jun (1939-2008 – “O idiota e o imbecil” (The Idiot and the Fool);
•
Oh Jung-Hee (1947- ) – “Espelho de cobre” (Bronze Mirror);
•
Hwang Sun-Won (1915-2000) - “A máscara” (Masks), “Chuva de verão” (Rain
Shower) e “Fragmento quente” (For Dear Life);
•
Lee Ho-Cheol (1932- ) – “O desgaste” (Wasting Away);
•
Park Wan Suh (1931- ) – “A pequena experiência”, “Três dias daquele outono”
(During Three Days of Autumn).
24
Não conheço o idioma coreano, que no entanto me seduz por sua beleza sonora e por sua intrigante e
harmoniosa escrita. Mas posso avaliar o resultado poético em português do trabalho empreendido por Yun e
Marsicano.
25
This translation has figured in the list of 10 books nominated for the Jabuti Award in the category of
translation in 2000. Its author also received the Literary Translation Award in 2001, in Korea.
12
The short story “O desgaste” – Wasting Away in the English translation – by Lee HoCheol called my attention by its extraordinary literary quality. The attentive reader,
accustomed to the reading of the greatest European authors, is stunned and delighted to
encounter a dense and well plotted text produced outside the canons of the literary Western
tradition.
Overcoming the narrow confines of the stereotypes of a picturesque literature,
focusing on local color, Lee Ho-Cheol gives a universal dimension to address the issue of the
withering away of a family caused by the war between fellow countrymen. In this sense, the
drama silently supported by the old, resigned and dignified patriarch whose name is not
mentioned in the entire narrative, reaches sublime amplitude of human condition.
Seated and dressed in a silk navy blue, the former director of a bank, now living in
miserable pension, maintains the dignity of a restrained and silent life, awaiting the
homecoming of his eldest daughter, married for 20 years and living in North Korea, without
returning to her parents.
Among all six characters of the story – the daughter-in-law, the son, the youngest
daughter, the husband's cousin's eldest daughter and the maid – the old man, recluse in his
own house, was the one who kept alive the hope that her daughter would return that night, as
in many previous nights. He has the grandeur, purity of spirit and innocence of Old Goriot,
the famous character of Balzac. Neither the fourteen continuous and repeated blows of metal
heard from afar, disturbing "the air of stillness and emptiness” of the house, attracted his
attention, taking him out of the fixed thought, awaiting the unlikely arrival of his beloved
daughter.
He is the household who suffers most the weariness of the story title. The others
speak, protest and move through the house. He, on the contrary, is restrained, only moves his
eyes. Not even pronounce a single word. He lives inside him, in a harrowing activity of
waiting, always fiddling with the wart on the nose, repetitive gestures he found to
communicate with the outside world.
The collapse of the family, with the consequent fraying physical and moral fraying of
its members, caused by factors and external agents, such as a war between brothers, is the
leitmotif of this captivating narrative by the masterful use of stream of consciousness and
interior monologue literary devices.
"Wasting Away” is an impressive story to figure not only in a Korean collection of
short stories, but also has the literary vigor to be published among the best texts of world
contemporary fiction.
13
WORKS CITED
Abreu, Marcelo. Delicadeza e violência na literatura coreana [Delicacy and Violence in
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