Where should I start in writing to you? You, as a character in the book, Who Ate Up All the Shinga? went with your story through the spectrum of history, war, death and life in Korea. You, as the writer of this book, also confess to us how you encountered a clarity of vision in your writing at the end of your story.
Perhaps that is why it was the best to not to translate ‘Shinga’ into English and leave as it is. It could be translated as ‘polymorphum’ or ‘river leaf’ (lá giang in Vietnamese) as Shinga is not a proper noun. When you said, ‘Suddenly shinga came to mind. In the countryside, they were as common as dayflowers, growing everywhere’, the shinga is not just a piece of plant you are looking for. The shinga is everywhere in Pakchok Hamlet but not existing in Seoul. The Shinga is something you left when you left Pakchok Hamlet; it could be your young age- you were naive and innocent without knowing the slickness of Seoul children. It is the imaginary place where white clothes look extra visible in the middle of night, when your grandfather is coming back home. You smell, hear, touch, and see with a fresh nose, ear and eyes. Your encounter with the world, with the nature, people, relationships and everything in your world, was set in your youth with the shinga. It is untranslatable to describe what you lost when you grew. That gap of untranslatability, perhaps, is why you are writing. Your attempt to bringing to life your wounds in the past, emotional discoveries and human stories are in the translation with the available words. But as for the shinga, it is better to leave it as it is instead of making the translation; there are always impossibilities and limits in translation.
* Park Wan-suh was a South Korean writer. She was born in 1931 in North Korea and she has passed away in January 2011 in South Korea. Her autobiographical novel, ‘Who Ate up All the Shinga’ is translated in English by Yu Yong-nan and Stephen Epstein in 2009 in Columbia University Press.
This writing piece has won Korean Literature essay Awards 2010 by the Korean Literature Translation Institute and The Korean Cultural Centre in London, UK.