Reviewed by: Cheryl LaGuardia, Research Librarian, Widener Library, Harvard University
One description of AZALEA: Journal of Korean Literature and Culture would be that it is a scholarly journal with dual aims: to promote Korean literature among English-language readers, and to provide the academic community of Korean studies with well-translated texts for college classes. A better description of the journal is that it brings to a global audience the literature and creative experience of Korea, powerfully edited and translated by artists in their own right.
A look at the most recent issue provides a snapshot of the treasure to be found here. In his editor’s note to the issue, David R. McCann compares the current issue to the first, published nearly a decade ago. He notes, “Readers will find the poems and stories in the current issue reflecting [engagement with a vital part of the international literary scene]. Not documents or testaments, they take compelling shape in the English-language translations, commentary, and discussions, reminding us that they too are a part of the contemporary Korean literary scene, as vast and vital as any, the realm to which AZALEA has, over the years, sought to be a bridge.” Then he adds the lyric note: “But still, a voice somewhere reminds me, there is the example of Kim Kirim, whose voice and vision come clear in Jack Jung’s gifted translations. Kim Kirim is one of the historical authors, more frequent in our pages a decade ago. Born in 1907, he disappeared into the North during the Korean War, 1950–53, and we are left with no trace, no record of his life or his death.”
It’s rare that one encounters an Editor’s note that is poetry in itself, but you’ll find other rare and precious material here, such as a Translators’ Roundtable with Song Sokze, in which three translators of short stories by the writer are given the opportunity to engage him in a question-and-answer session about his work. Reading the interplay between the translators and author is exciting, informative, and sometimes humorous (an interchange about a “mansplainer” – someone who insists on talking at a woman and “pontificating on subjects at length under the assumption that she needs his enlightening” – in one of the author’s stories is pretty funny, as well as practical). Reading the translations done of the stories after the Round Table (they follow it immediately) adds meaning and context to them.
The rest of the issue’s content is just as stimulating and unusual. The poetry, fiction, and other pieces are content that won’t be found elsewhere, but are jewels worth taking the time to discover. That pretty well describes AZALEA , in fact: a jewel of a journal worth taking the time to discover. Here’s hoping this review makes it manifest to many more.