Translator Behind Int'l Success of Korean Novels

The international Korean bestsellers "Please Look After Mom," children's story "Leafie, A Hen into the Wild," and "The Investigation" all owe some of their success in the English-speaking world to Kim Chi-young.

The 33-year-old translator, who lives in Los Angeles, is currently translating the soul-searching book, "Things You See When You Pause," by Buddhist monk Haemin.

Kim started translating as a kind of hobby as she loves reading, but nowadays Korean writers are making a beeline to her doorstep.

Kim Chi-young Kim Chi-young

"I struggle with words or expressions that are tough to convey in English, but that is the allure of translating," she told the Chosun Ilbo by email.

"I often get excited whenever I encounter a uniquely Korean word or expression, as if I am going on an adventure. What makes my heart race is to be able to translate something that is seemingly impossible to translate."

A lawyer by training, Kim quit her job with a law firm to find more time for her translation work and now has a job soliciting donations for the Los Angeles County Municipal Art Gallery.

Kim says there is "not much difference" between the jobs since they both involve convincing others.

But Kim avoids the usual pious lip-service to promoting Korean culture abroad, saying she simply wishes to share the books she enjoyed reading. She chooses which books to translate according to whether she liked the story or not. "That's because I have to live and breathe with the book for a whole year."

She has never missed a deadline, makes sure the level of English matches the level of Korean used in the novels she translates, and is constantly reading.

She is modest about her achievements. "I'm still in my early 30s, so I think I'll have to grow older to produce really good translations," she says.

englishnews@chosun.com / May 21, 2014 08:17 KST