"Writing brings you to another world": South Korean writer Han Yujoo at Jaipur Lit Fest 2018
South Korean writer Han Yujoo is said to be standing on the boundaries of linguistic experimentation that Korean literature is undergoing in the 21st century. The author of three collections of short stories - To the Moon, Book of Ice and My Left Hand the King My Right Hand the King’s Scribe - she debuted in 2003 with her short story To the Moon, which won Literature and Society’s New Writers Award, also winning the prestigious Hankook Ilbo Literary Award in 2009.
Han Yujoo was at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2018 to promote her first novel, The Impossible Fairytale, which she published in 2017. She was also a part of a handful of discussions at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2018, including the sessions 'Language, Identity and Translation' with Anna Cecilia Moulton, Annie Montaut, Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones, Mridula Nath Chakroborty and Tara June in conversation with Sudeep Sen; 'Readings from Six Continents' with Adriana Lisboa, Josefine Klougart, Léonora Miano and Tara June Winch, moderated by Radha Chakravarty; and 'Words Are All We Have' with Janice Pariat and Leïla Slimani in conversation with Prajwal Parajuly.
We caught up for a chat with the writer on the sidelines of the festival.
"Reading is a wonderful open door to reach out to a whole new world." - Han Yujoo, who won the Hankook Ilbo Literary Award in 2009, and authored three collections of short stories, To the Moon, Book of Iceand My Left Hand the King My Right Hand the King’s Scribe. Her first novel, The Impossible Fairytale, was published in 2017. #JLF2018 #JaipurLiteratureFestival
What were the main talking points, for you, at this year's Jaipur Lit Fest?
Han Yujoo: Before I arrived in Jaipur, I heard that JLF is one of the largest literature festivals in the world. And I found that it really is. In front of a huge audience, I was focusing on the specialty of Korean language and my work, my first novel translated into English, The Impossible Fairytale. To talk about this novel, I had to speak about violence, child abuse, and an author’s ethics in general.
Tell us a little about your new writing projects.
HY: Currently, I’m finishing my second novel, relatively shorter than my first one, the title of which would be A Knife of a Suicide. This will be about how to mourn, and about repetition as a literary form. I know the suicidal rate is quite high in my country, so I need to write something about this. This will be published in Korean first this summer, and I really hope this would be translated into other languages soon, including English, of course.
In general, would you encourage non-fiction and journalistic writing over fiction? How would you like to see more stories emerging from South Korea?
HY: Personally, I don’t see non-fiction or journalistic writing as major genres in Korea. I hope more works in these genres come out. Korean literature is highly competent on the international stage already. But almost every Korean writer only writes in Korean, so they remain easily unknown. I hope more stories from Korea will be translated well enough to get acknowledged in other parts of the world.
A word of advice for readers, and aspiring writers?
HY: What I really regret is that I wasn’t willing to hear my grandmother’s voice. She always wanted me to write something about her. But I was afraid to write her own story, which was not mine, so I didn’t listen to her. Maybe she had something to tell. That might be looked at as too mediocre or too trivial. But, nowadays, I think everyone should listen to others, because everyone has something important to tell, even if it does not look that important. So, I’d happily encourage people to become writers. There are many platform nowadays, like blogs. And the time - not us - will be a judge about what is good and meaningful to read, and what is not.
How interested are you in the online space?
HY: I think this phenomenon is inspiring. As I said, the online space is great for (not yet) unknown writers. And Twitter, for example, is great to experiment with micro-fiction. Or sometimes, dialogues on Twitter reach a different kind of screenplay. I don't know what kinds of platforms to expect in the future. But as a writer, I think all sorts of changes will bring us new schemes of thinking.
How do you view the trend of a book's success being judged by its prospect to be translated into a blockbuster movie?
HY: I really think movies are very different from fictions. Especially blockbuster movies. What fiction can do, and what movies can do, are different. And, also, blockbuster movies have time limits. I’ll be happy if someone adapts my novel into a movie that makes sense, but it won’t mean my success as a writer. I like to say, writers should enjoy their own freedom.
Give us a few words, in your personal view, about the pleasures that you derive from the act of writing.
HY: When I was a child, reading was the only way to imagine another world. And that possible world justified my existence of this world. After that period of time, I began to feel I want to write something. That’s how I started. I think writing is the most easiest way to express oneself. What you need is just a pen and a piece of paper. You don’t need a canvas or musical instruments. And the best part of writing is that you can forget yourself sometimes because the act of writing brings you to another world.
Would you have any particular genre that you prefer to spend time with? Are there any writers you would recommend for young readers to begin with?
HY: Mostly, I read fiction. But sometimes, I indulge in scientific essays. They make me dream about other possibilities. When I was young, I didn’t understand why so many people recommended me Madame Bovary (by Gustave Flaubert). At that time, I just vaguely understood the mere storyline. But now, this masterpiece looks somewhat different. I wish young readers read whatever they want now, and after passing some time, re-read it again. As time changes, your impression or thinking will change as well.