Can Norway’s Karl Ove Knausgård Boost Reading in Korea?

In News by Dennis Abrams

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

At the Korean Herald, Park Hyong-ki laid it all out:

Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgård at Turku Book Fair, 2011. Image: Anneli Salo CC-BY-SA-3.0

Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgård at Turku Book Fair, 2011. Image: Anneli Salo CC-BY-SA-3.0

“Confronting growing problems in the Korean literary landscape—such as a continuing decline in book reading, plagiarism and the unpopularity of novels—Hangilsa Publishing, a Korean publisher based in Paju, Gyeonngi Province, seeks to turn the tide with a new book from Norway.”

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Hangilsa Publishing has published the first volume of the Korean translation of Karl Ove Knausgård’s autobiographical novel My Struggle.

At a press conference in Seoul, the company’s president, Kim Eoun-ho, said, “We not only hope to introduce this new book from Norway to Koreans, but also to introduce Norway’s literary world, a country where its people read about 17 books on an average year.

“Through this book, we hope Korean readers can enjoy reading novels again.”

The company Kim said, “will seek to introduce more books from Northern Europe and other parts of the world Korean readers have not yet experienced.”

A new report in The Korea Times outlines the problem of Korean reading patterns, as interpreted by results of a new survey made by the country’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism:

“The findings are from the ministry’s survey of 5,000 adults and 3,000 elementary, middle and high school students from October 2014 to September 2015. According to the survey, the average yearly reading rate among adults was 65.3 percent, a 6.1-percent drop from 2013.

“The figure indicates,” according to this report, “that out of 10 adults, only 6.5 read at least one book last year. This is the lowest figure since the ministry started the biennial survey in 1994.”

The Hangilsa Publishing edition of 'My Struggle' is

The Hangilsa Publishing edition of the first volume of ‘My Struggle’

The Korean Herald report indicates that by contrast, Koreans watch some two hours of television daily.

Kyung Hee University humanities professor Kim Min-woong, who has been working with both the publisher and Knausgård for two years to get the book published in Korea, talked about his conviction that the book will deeply connect with Korean readers:

“This book is about life’s struggle, self-discovery and unlocking the secrets to life and happiness,” he said. “It has the potential to touch Koreans who mostly lead a very busy life.”

Prof. Kim said that My Struggle can help to “raise and throw” questions both at the reader and at society as a whole.

“It can help us philosophically explore our existence and take control of our life,” he told the paper, adding that he hopes that the book would revive Korean readers’ interest and trust in novels–important given recent plagiarism controversies.

It is expected that Knausgård will visit South Korea as part of his Asian book tour in March.

The second volume of My Struggle is expected to be released in Korean by the end of the year.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.