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K-Book in Berlin

M&K's Monica Gu talks South Korean books

 

2019.09.09

 

 

It is rare for German publishers to release South Korean books.
Considering this, the first exhibition for South Korean books in Germany,
K-Book in Berlin embarked on a mission to spread the word about great South Korean books.

 

 

It's been three years since I came to Germany for personal reasons. As I run a publishing company in South Korea, I visit bookstores and libraries in Germany often in search of good ideas for publications. Naturally, I found myself seeking out South Korean books translated into German, and I found Han Kang's The Vegetarian (Changbi) and Jeong You-jeong's Seven Years of Darkness (Eunhaengnamu). The Literature Translation Institute of Korea played a huge role in getting these books to German readers, but usually it is rare for German publishers to publish South Korean books all on their own. Being aware of many excellent books in South Korea, this was a big disappointment. Why weren't more Korean books, or K-books, being published in Germany?
With this question in mind, I sought out opportunities to promote Korean books and eventually I was selected to be part of the public relations project for K-books by the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea and started working on opening “K-Book in Berlin”. Germany is a powerhouse in the global publishing industry, and every year publishing experts around the world visit the country for the international book fair in Frankfurt among other events. We were to open our own Korean book exhibition in the capital of Germany. With a plan in mind to try and get more Korean books translated into German through the exhibition, we began market research to identify German tastes and what sort of Korean books they preferred. In the end, we ended up selecting some-150 books from seven genres (literature, children's books, essays, economics and management/self-help, linguistics, travel and cooking). With the help of students learning Korean at the Free University of Berlin, we came up with an abstract in German and from July to September, our great journey as the country's first exhibition for Korean books began.

 

<K-Book in Berlin> poster

“K-Book in Berlin” poster

 

Literature books on display (left) and children's books on shelves (right)

Literature books on display (left) and children's books on shelves (right)

 

 

Selecting Korean books catering to German tastes

 

 

South Korea is a powerful country when it comes to
published content with great books released continuously.
Through this exhibition, I made up my mind to introduce
great Korean books that could potentially get published in Germany.

 

 

After more than 20 years working in the publishing industry, writers, potential writers, content and books are my life. And the conclusion I had come to was South Korea is a powerful country when it comes to published content. There are complaints that reading rates are dropping by the day, but the publishing industry in the country, which depends on books to survive, is still alive and well. Great books continue to be published. With this, I made up my mind to introduce great Korean books that could potentially get published in Germany.

 

#1. Literature: Jo Jung-rae, Gong Ji-young, Shin Hyun-rim, etc

 

<Taebaek Mountain Range>, <Grandmother Doesn't Die>, <The Cat Who Realized>

Taebaek Mountain Range, Grandmother Doesn't Die, The Cat Who Realized

 

The first author selected to represent South Korea was Jo Jung-rae. After their initial publications in the 1980s, Jo's novels Taebaek Mountain Range (Hainaim) and Arirang (Hainaim) have been popular with readers and considered classics. Along with Han River (Hainaim) published in 2002, these three novels are now considered the trinity of modern Korean history in the 20th century and beloved by readers today. Jo was included in Marquis Who's Who in 2002, an almanac of key figures throughout the world. In the U.K., Jo was also among one thousand Asians selected by the country's International Biographical Centre. Jo's work, which I felt teaches readers about the fetters of Korean history, needed to be read by people around the world.
The second Korean author we selected was Gong Ji-young, whose work has already been widely published in English-speaking countries andAsia. I felt a pang of regret at how none of her work had previously been translated into German. Gong saw three of her books - Mackerel (Hainaim), Human Decency (Changbi) and Go Alone like a Rhino Horn (Hainaim)- all rise to bestseller status in 1994 and she instantly became South Korea's bestselling author then. There had even been a social 'syndrome' named after the author at the time. She cemented her standing as one of South Korea's best authors with autobiographical My Sister Bong-soon (Hainaim) and Our Happy Time (Hainaim). The latter was adapted into a movie, which was popular with audiences. Her book The Crucible (Changbi) published in 2009 was also adapted into a movie, shocking audiences with its content based on real-life stories. My Happy House (Hainaim), which garnered positive reactions from young female readers, was on display at the exhibition along with novels and essay collections like A Good Woman (Hainaim), There Is No More Beautiful Wandering (Hainaim) and her latest work Grandmother Doesn't Die (Hainaim) and Haeri (Hainaim). Other female novelists' work at the exhibition included Kim Byeol-a's Misil (Hainaim) and Passionate Love (Hainaim); and Han So-jin's Hymn of Death (Hainaim).
Among South Korean poets Shin Hyun-rim was selected. Shin is a female poet who shook up the social discourse on women within systems of her time. Recently, she was one of nine women selected to represent South Korea by Tilted Axis, a U.K. publisher. Poetry collections like Throw Burning Shoes at a Boring World (Sagwakkot), End of Century Blues (Changbi), Person Who Becomes Ill at Sunset (Minumsa), I Rode on a Bed (Minumsa), Basement Floor Alice (Minumsa) and When You, Apple Flower, Come (Sagwakkot) were displayed at the exhibition. Also there were Shin's photograph essay collections like Time With a Lover (Sagwakkot), Nude of Hope (Yollimwon), Even Sadness Has an Original (Dong-A Ilbo Publishing), Shin Hyun-rim's Fascinating Modern Art (Bada Publishing), Apple Field Photograph Studio (Nunbit) and Apple Travels (April Snow). Shin's picture essay collections including Shin Hyun-rim's Things to do While Mom is Here (Sagwakkot), Day When I Want to do Nothing (Hyeonjaeuisup) and The Cat Who Realized (Sagwakkot) were also featured in addition to her video essay My Beautiful Window (Changbi) and her poetry collection for children The Choco-Pie Bicycle (Bir Publishing). Recently Shin established her own publishing company called Sagwakkot (apple flower) and has been shedding new light on poets like Yi Sang, Han Yong-un, Yun Dong-ju, Pak In-hwan, Pak Sok, Kim Myeong-sun, Kim Yong-nang, Kim So-wol and Ko Un through Rediscovering Representative Korean Poems 101. At the exhibition in Berlin there were also poetry collections by these famous poets.
Aside from traditional literature, I found German readers also preferred to read mystery novels, detective stories and science fiction. Having discovered this fact, also included in the exhibition were science fiction novels from South Korean publisher Hubble like Pico, which had been awarded a science literature award in South Korea, Annex of the Jurisdiction and People Who Are Born Once. The Korea Science Literature Award is the only literary award for debuting authors in science fiction, and authors who have received this honor have been seeing their popularity grow in South Korea recently.

 

#2. Essays: Ryu Si-hwa, Nam In-sook, Oh Ki-sa,etc

 

<Who Knows Whether It's Good or Bad>, <In Truth, I Am an Introvert>

Who Knows Whether It's Good or Bad, In Truth, I Am an Introvert

 

Similar to South Korean readers, those in Germany also love to read essays on how to live life, how to deal with people and travel. The exhibition featured essay collections by renowned South Korean essayist Ryu Si-hwa including Who Knows Whether It's Good or Bad (The Forest) and Birds Don't Look Back When They Fly (The Forest). We included Ryu because we felt his books that look deep into life philosophically had enough potential to be published in German too. Works by Kim Seung-seop like For Pain to Become a Road (East-Asia Publishing) and If Our Bodies Were the World (East-Asia Publishing) were at the exhibition as well. Seung's books have insight on life and offer wisdom on the world.
Books by Nam In-sook, for whom we were planning a meet-and-greet with readers at the exhibition, are also worth taking a look at, as she is a prominent writer on women issues and self-development. One of her leading works, A Woman's Life is Decided in Her 20s (Hainaim) has been published in five Asian countries, attracting more than 10 million readers and I wanted to introduce this book to German women. In addition to this book, A Woman's Life Begins from Self Respect (Hainaim), Despite All Else Men Are Necessary (Wisdom House), Classes on Marriage That Change Life (Hainaim), A Man's Life is Decided in His 20s (Hainaim) and her latest, In Truth, I Am an Introvert (21st Century Books) could all be found at the event.

 

Event poster for a meet-and-greet with Nam In-sook (left), illustrations by Oh Ki-sa (right);

Event poster for a meet-and-greet with Nam In-sook (left), illustrations by Oh Ki-sa (right)

 

To represent South Korea's travel essays, we selected Oh Ki-sa. Oh is popular among South Korean readers for unique ideas and detailed travel illustrations thanks to the author's career as an architect. Not only were his books on display, but his illustrations were also open for viewing throughout August. His most recent book Special Train From Paris to Seoul (Paper Story) along with The City of Fickle People (Paper Story), The Map of Life (Paper Story), Still I Like Seoul (Paper Story) and Rediscovering Seoul (Paper Story) all aim to show readers how to enjoy culture and art in everyday life and I believed they had the potential to capture the hearts of German readers. For German readers interested in traveling to South Korea, we offered In Search of Traditional Korean Villages and Walking the Alleys of Old Cities from publisher Humanist among other books.

 

#3. Self-development/Economics, Management: Lee Min-gyu, Hans Media,etc

 

<Happiness is a Choice>, <Thinking Method of the Platform>, <The Party of Innovation>

Happiness is a Choice, Thinking Method of the Platform, The Party of Innovation

 

We selected author Lee Min-gyu to represent South Korea's self-development book authors as his books center around themes like 'the happiness theory' and 'the theory of managing oneself'. At the exhibition were Attractive People Have 1% Difference In Them (The Nan), Changing 1% Can Change Your Life (The Nan), Acting is the Answer (The Nan), Happiness is a Choice (The Nan) and Your Dreams and Happiness Are Decided in Your 20s (The Nan). South Korea is one of the fastest countries when it comes to churning out books on strategy for the future and future trends. So at the exhibition, we also featured Thinking Method of the Platform, Forward 2019, Reading the Future and Lifestyle Business is Coming from Hans Media. In addition to these, we felt German readers would be drawn to business strategy books like Classic Strategies (Humanist) and The Party of Innovation (Chungaram Media).

 

#4. Liberal Arts (History, Art, Science): Chungaram Media, Right to Dream, Humanist, etc

 

<Ask Through Tarot, Liberal Arts Will Answer>, <What is Digital Liberal Arts?>, <Professor Lee Jong-pil's Interstellar>

Ask Through Tarot, Liberal Arts Will Answer, What is Digital Liberal Arts?, Professor Lee Jong-pil's Interstellar

 

Germany is quite proud of its liberal arts capacities, and I wanted to show readers there how South Korea also has excellent books on liberal arts. Divided into different publishers, we displayed Chungaram Media's Ask Through Tarot, Liberal Arts Will Answer, Kang Ho-in Literature, Science Like Cookies and Future Science Concert for Teenagers; Right to Dream's What is Digital Liberal Arts? and Introductory Dictionary on Cultural Content Through 100 Keywords; Humanist's Korean History on the Table and The Birth of the Democratic Republic of Korea; East-Asia Publishing's Why Did Oriental Art Become Literati Paintings and Professor Lee Jong-pil's Interstellar, Paper Story's The Library of the Artist and The Forest's I Learned Everything on Science in the Kitchen.

 

#5. Children's Books: Half Moon Publishing, SangSang School, M&Kids, etc

 

<달토끼 거북이 오징어>, <내 생각 먼저 물어봐 주세요>, <한국을 빛낸 100명의 위인들>

The Moon Rabbit, Turtle, Squid, Ask My Thoughts First, 100 People Who Brought Prestige to the World

 

Germany, the land of Marchen, is also frequently called the land of children's books, but children's books from South Korea have also been increasingly receiving international praise. At the exhibition, we had Half Moon Publishing's The Tree Dances, which received an award at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, as well as their Who Are You, One Shadow, The Eraser, 10 Seconds, The Wall, When the Persimmon Tree Calls, The Blue Duck, The Moon Rabbit, Turtle, Squid, Yellow Boots, Spring Breeze and Gogumaguma among some 50 books in a special exhibition. In addition to these, readers were able to browse through SangSang School's Don't Get Angry and Speak Nicely and Ask My Thoughts First; and M&Kids' 100 People Who Brought Prestige to the World and Women Who Changed Korea.

 

#6. Linguistics: Hollym, KongnPark, Talk to Me in Korea,etc

It may be thanks to the global BTS craze, but interest in learning Korean is booming throughout Europe, and in step with this trend, we had English and German versions of Korean workbooks from publishers and institutions like Hollym, KongnPark, Talk to Me in Korea, Seoul National University, King Sejong Institute and EBS. In the case of language workbooks, German readers were able to easily order them online after those interested were introduced to Hollym's online website for German readers (www.koreanbook.de), and that for KongnPark (www.booksonkorea.com).

 

 

Spreading the Word on Korean Books, Culture through Cultural Events


 

We felt this exhibition not only had to inform German people about Korean books
but also teach them a thing or two about South Korea through
book-related art exhibitions and cultural events.

 

 

 

A view of the opening event

A view of the opening event

 

A learning event for Korean (left), book reading for children (right)

A learning event for Korean (left), book reading for children (right)

 

The venue for this exhibition was also unique. It took place in a comprehensive cultural exhibition area in Berlin called Artist Homes (www.artist-homes.com), a former bunker used in World War II. Korean Kim Jong-ha remodeled the location into a cultural area. We felt this exhibition not only had to inform German people about Korean books but also teach them a thing or two about South Korea through book-related art exhibitions and cultural events. At the venue, visitors were also able to enjoy a children's book art exhibition by Half Moon Publishing, Oh Ki-sa's illustrations and a photography exhibition by Kwon Hyeok-jae. At the opening event, there was a musical performance involving samulnori and pansori to introduce visitors to traditional Korean music. Through a book reading session for children, we were able to let visitors know about the excellence of South Korean children's books while at a learning event many participants were introduced to the Korean language. Author Nam In-sook was also scheduled to have a meet-and-greet with German visitors on Sept. 20. Many German visitors who were at the exhibition told staff it was their first time experiencing Korean books and showed much curiosity. The exhibition closes at the end of September.

 

〈Information Guide on Books, Location and Miscellaneous Events〉
* “K-Book in Berlin” Facebook page: www.facebook.com/kbookinberlin

 

 


Written by Monika Gu (Head of M&K, a publishing group)

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Monika Gu (Head of M&K, a publishing group)

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