The Story of Hong Gildong
Penguin Classics 2016
Minsoo Kang‘s new translation of The Story of Hong Gildong (Penguin Classics, 2016) is a wonderful rendering of a text that is arguably the “single most important work of classicâ€¦prose fiction of Korea.” Though Hong Gildong is a popular figure in modern Korean culture – a kind of Robin Hood character, “Hong Gildong” is also used as a generic name on instruction forms, in the manner of “John Doe” – the story that made him famous has not been widely read and enjoyed for English-language audiences. Not only will Kang’s book change that, but it’s an absolute pleasure to read as well. In these pages readers will follow along with this trickster figure in a tale that that features storytelling about Joseon society and its illegitimate sons, a realistic portrayal of life in a nobleman’s household, sorcery, physiognomy, lies, love, more sorcery, thievery, politics, monsters, kidnapping, and even more sorcery. In the course of our conversation, we also talked about the craft of translation and the challenges and joys of translating this particular work. Get your hands on a copy: not only is it extremely readable, but also will make an excellent, fun, short primary source reading to assign in a wide range of undergraduate courses!