Following on from my previous blog post which was my book review on The Underground Village Short Stories I thought it was the prefect opportunity to find out more about not only the translating process but also more about the translator himself Anton Hur. So today’s post is going to be an Interview with translator Anton Hur. (Just a quick disclaimer this interview was conducted a few months back and the answer to the very last question of this interview has probably changed since then.)
First, could you please introduce yourself.
My name is Anton Hur and I translate Korean books, mostly fiction, into English. I was born in Stockholm, Sweden, but I’m a South Korean citizen who has lived in Korea these past thirty years and served in the Korean army.
What was your inspiration for pursuing a career in translation? And how did you get started?
I fell into it. Like most graduates of Korea University, I assumed I would apply for a job at Samsung or LG, but my older brother convinced me not to. I generally end up doing what my older brother advises me to, he’s very convincing.
Why did you want to translate The Underground Village: Short Stories by Kyeong-ae?
I wanted to translate a woman writer and didn’t have time to get rights for anyone alive, so I looked for someone who was out of copyright. I’ve always admired Kang Kyeong-ae, she reminds me of my mother’s side of the family, who fled North Korea after Liberation to escape Communist oppression.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a translator?
This is controversial advice but you have to be pretty extroverted because unless you’re willing to be agented, you have to seek out clients and new business. Actually doing the work—the translating—is the easy part. Maybe get a law degree? Mine has been surprisingly helpful regarding contracts.
What authors/translators do you like to read? And what five books do you feel have really shaped and inspired you as a translator and a person?
I’ll buy anything Mui Poopoksakul translates, to me she is exactly the kind of translator I want to be: a note-perfect translator and an advocate for her authors and literature. And Sora Kim-Russell basically made my career; something like 70% of my book work is me stepping in for her when she turns down something! Five books that inspire me: Still Life by AS Byatt, Microserfs by Douglas Coupland, The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness by Kyung-Sook Shin, Tar Baby by Toni Morrison, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.
What books are you excited about or working on now?
Sora Kim-Russell and I are co-translating Man Booker International nominee Hwang Sok-Yong’s memoirs for Verso Books. It’s called The Prisoner in Korean, I don’t know if they’ll keep that title in English. I have works by Bora Chung, Jung Young Su, Sang Young Park, and Kyung-Sook Shin in various stages of post-translation development, either they’ve been signed or are about to be signed.
Are there any Korean books that you would love to translate in the future?
I’ll probably start sending out Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny to publishers by the end of summer, I just won a summer residency to give me time to complete the sample. It’s a book of feminist horror stories, much like Carmen Maria Machado.
When it comes to the promotion of the books that you have translated how involved are you?
I’m pretty involved. We have to build a readership for our authors if we want to keep translating them, that’s the reality of the business. But more than that, readers genuinely want to know about books and authors and cool new reading experiences, and translators are sometimes the only people who can convey this experience to readers of another language. My colleague So J Lee went as far as to produce a live bilingual reading event in Seoul to promote queer Korean contemporary literature!
Has the perception of Korean Literature in translation changed during the time you have worked as a translator?
Definitely. There are many factors, but Han Kang and Deborah Smith winning the Man Booker International really helped change the perception of Korean literature around the world. Readers began reading our work as literature, like they do with French and Spanish translations, not like anthropological texts or tourism guides.
Finally, what are you currently reading.
The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin (translated by Joel Martinsen) and Python for Data Science for Dummies.
Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview and I cannot wait to read more of your translations in the future.
(Photo of the book is my own and the photo of Anton Hur is the property of Anton himself so please do not take or copy without permission first).