While in Korea, I had the fantastic opportunity to meet with Sora Kim-Russell, the lovely woman who translated I’LL BE RIGHT THERE by Kyung-Sook Shin. I had such a wonderful time. Here’s a preview of the interview:
During the process of translating I’ll Be Right There, what was the nature of your relationship with Kyung-sook Shin, the author? How much contact and collaboration went on?
There was a fair amount of contact and collaboration, especially compared to other translation projects I’ve worked on, but it was mainly during the revision and editing stages. I usually save my questions for the writer until I’ve completed the rough draft, because I like the idea of being alone with the book and having my own understanding of it. It makes it easier to immerse yourself in the characters’ lives. But once that stage of translation was done, I began going back and forth with the writer, both to clarify parts of the text that were unclear or confusing and to discuss changes and alterations that were made in the translation. In some cases, that meant just a quick email to confirm a detail, and in other cases, we had face-to-face meetings to discuss the book.
Could you talk a little about the process of identifying and then translating the voice of Jung Yoon, the protagonist of I’ll Be Right There?
It was definitely challenging at first. When I first started translating the book, I didn’t feel a strong personal identification with the character, so there was a process, for me, of understanding her and understanding what makes her tick, why she reacts to things the way she does, why she says the things she says. But at some point it all clicked, and it became much easier to capture her voice. For example, one specific challenge was her tendency to hold back—when other characters say things to her, she doesn’t always answer immediately but instead echoes their words back to them. Her emotions are projected onto the world around her rather than being stated outright. I found this indirectness tricky to connect with emotionally, but once I’d read and translated the entire book and saw how the pieces fit together, she suddenly made sense to me. I noticed how it wasn’t just about the things she says directly but also the way she views the world, the details that she lingers over—in other words, not just her direct dialogue and thoughts but all of the narrative sentences in between. That was where her personality revealed itself to me.
Don’t just get spoiled with the preview, go check out the full interview HERE. The interview was fascinating and insightful. But everyone knows that what one gets on camera is not the whole story. (It’s not like I filmed the interview either so actually, I didn’t get anything on camera– but you understand what I’m saying.) The real questions and discussion didn’t start until after I was done asking the questions I planned for my website.
My journey to the interview will be posted another day because that was an adventure all by itself. However, after I stopped recording the words, our discussion shifted. Ms. Sora Kim-Russell is an awesome person and wonderfully-easy to talk to. You know me: here I was, freaking out. I mean I was about to meet this amazing translator (go read I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-sook Shin RIGHT NOW) who translated this awe-inspiring book. I was nervous, like super nervous– ready to pass out. I just had lunch a few hours before (돈까스, so delicious!) and I thought I may be sick. However, Ms. Sora Kim-Russell was so nice.
Our discussion was filled with random things brought upon previous responses. I remember us talking about writing and Korean literature, Netflix and Seoul. I had an awesome time meeting and speaking with her.
Before I left, Ms. Sora Kim-Russell signed my book. It now sits on my shelf, next to the novel in Korean. It really is a wonderful piece of art. Check out my book review HERE.
I left the interview an hour or so after we had begun. The air was a bit chill, greeting me as I exited the underground complex of 이대, Ewha Womans University. I stood there for a moment, clutching the newly-signed book and thought about how lucky I was to be there.