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Kim So-yeon's poems win best translation award in Japan

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The cover of poet Kim So-yeon's
The cover of poet Kim So-yeon's "One-letter Dictionary" (2021), translated by Kang Shin-ja / Courtesy of Cuon

By Park Han-sol

Poet Kim So-yeon / Korea Times file
Poet Kim So-yeon / Korea Times file
The translator of Korean poet Kim So-yeon's work has become the recipient of this year's best translation award in Japan, the selection committee announced on May 17.

Two literary pieces have been named the winner of this year's prize: Kim's "One-letter Dictionary," translated by Kang Shin-ja, and "A Hora da Estrela (The Hour of the Star)," written by Ukrainian-born Brazilian novelist, Clarice Lispector (1920-77), and translated by Nobuhiro Fukushima.

This marks the third time for a Korean literary piece to be selected for the Japanese translation award, followed by the wins of Park Min-gyu's "Castella" in 2015 and Kim Young-ha's "Diary of a Murderer" in 2018.

The award ceremony, accompanied by poetry reading sessions with winners and talks with the selection committee, is scheduled to be held in Japan next month.

"One-letter Dictionary," as its title indicates, is Kim's own version of a lyrical wordbook filled with a total of 310 one-letter Korean terms ― such as "myself," "more," "first," "life," "seed," "female" and "daytime."

The poetic definitions of these terms go far beyond their literal meanings, as she attempts to uncover the hidden layers beneath the surface with her intuition, sense of humor and perceptive views toward society and relationships.

Originally published in 2018, the piece marks the continuation of the poet's efforts to provide her own expressive definition and interpretation of her worldview, followed by "Dictionary of the Mind" in 2008.

Kim, who made her literary debut in 1993 with "We Praise," has been known for composing poems with bold lyricism to convey a quiet sense of loneliness, longing and emptiness.

"Her poetry sits somewhere between conventional lyric poetry and avant-garde poetry, which was popular among young South Korean poets in the 2000s," the Literature Translation Institute of Korea states in its English introduction of the writer.

The poet has received several notable awards throughout her career, including the Hyundae Literary Award, the Yi Yuksa Poetry Award and the Nojak Literature Prize.

Meanwhile, Lispector's novella, "The Hour of the Star," revolves around the narration of a character in Rio de Janeiro as he looks back on the life and death of a young, uneducated girl who struggled against poverty and sexism in Brazil in the mid-20th century.

The book touches on a number of socially relevant subjects, including the socioeconomic gap between the rural northeastern states and the wealthier, urban southeastern region of Brazil.

It was adapted into a film of the same title in 1985, which won the Silver Bear for best actress at the 36th Berlin International Film Festival.


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