New Directions in Korean Literary Studies

Youngju Ryu, University of Michigan

Heekyoung Cho. Translation's Forgotten History: Russian Literature, Japanese Mediation, and the Formation of Modern Korean Literature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016. 264 pp. $40 (cloth).

Dafna Zur. Figuring Korean Futures: Children's Literature in Modern Korea. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017. 304 pp. $65 (cloth).

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This is a great time to be a scholar of modern Korean literature in North America. Over the last five years, a number of fine monographs have been published, including English-language studies by Hanscom (2013), Suh (2013), Hughes (2014), Poole (2014), Park (2015), Kwon (2015), and Lee (2015). Because of them, we now have an excellent understanding of the emergence of modern Korean literature during the first half of the twentieth century as an institution created within a charged force field shaped as intensely by nationalism as colonialism, by capitalism as socialism, and by tradition as revolution. More specifically, these studies have shed light on critical issues relevant to the domain of literary production, such as language ideologies and reform, practices and theories of translation, and material conditions of publishing and censorship, as well as questions of genre and medium. They have also helped us to situate the formation of modern Korean literature within global flows and comparative horizons, whether of the proletarian wave or global modernism. The two books under consideration in this essay expand on such scholarship by taking a more specialized approach, focusing on two bodies of texts that had previously received only fleeting attention: Russian literature in the case of Heekyoung Cho’s Translation’s Forgotten History: Russian Literature, Japanese Mediation, and the Formation of Modern Korean Literature, and Korean children’s literature in the case of Dafna Zur’s Figuring Korean Futures: Children’s Literature in Modern Korea. Whereas scholars have long appreciated the vital importance of each of these genres for understanding the formation of modern Korean literature, neither had yet merited a book-length study in English. Thus, in addition to providing valuable scholarship, these books may be viewed as exciting signs of the growth and maturation of the field....