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박민규의 지구 영웅 전설카스테라

This entry is part 35 of 70 in the series SF in South Korea

Park Min Gyu is a Korean author that has been recommended to me by several people, independent of one another. After hearing about my novella “Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang,” Stephen Epstein recommended Park’s book 지구 영웅 전설, which I’ll render here sloppily as World Hero Legend or, a little less sloppily, as The Legend of the Earth’s Superheroes, a novel featuring a Korean supe who supposedly sets out to become a superhero and ends up calling himself “Banana-man” and ends up being a kind of gopher or page for American heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman (who sends him out to buy maxi-pads or tampons at some point, if I remember the gag correctly). It is, obviously, a satirical look at the hegemonic narratives inherent in superheroes, but Park is one of those writers who covers such ground only while making his reader howl and guffaw like mad.

Castella (the Spanish word sounds better than the English “sponge cake,” see below) is a somewhat different book, containing short stories that pursue the same mix thoughtfulness and humor. The story I was told about, by the translator (and my friend) Insu Hong, involved a guy who basically grappled with impermanence by putting things into his fridge: his parents; his girlfriend; China… everything goes into that metaphysical fridge. Insu told me it was funny and sad and wonderful all at once.

Well, I’m not equipped to do translation on my own, but Miss Jiwaku and I have been talking about trying our hand at working on something and sending it out, to see what happens. I know zilch about the legalities of translation, of course — at what point in the process one approaches the original author, for example — and something tells me that the copyright issues might become an issue with the novel I mentioned at the top of this post: satire is one of those areas where copyright doesn’t quite apply, but as we all know, the American legal system is set up so big companies can still throw their weight around by suing even when they’re sure to lose, since they can afford it, and sometimes do so just to jealously protect copyright. What I’m wondering is whether publishers would be willing to consider publishing a translation, given the risk.

So maybe we’ll try one of the short stories first… it seems a wiser move anyway, given that it’s an experimental collaboration and all. No idea when we’ll get around to it, but it sounds like fun. Now, if only I had time to get back to writing my own fiction!

By the way, I’ve never eaten anything called “castella” but it’s explained here that it’s just the Spanish name (update: see comments) it’s the Japanese name for what we in English call “sponge cake.” Somehow the Spanish word was Koreanized into “castera,” which is the Korean title of the book of short stories mentioned above.

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