The Korean novel “Kim Ji-young, Born 1982” has been translated in 17 different countries. This story portrays the discrimination and micro-aggressions Korean women experience throughout their lives. Such interest in this book proves how the story carries issues of women around the world that they can sympathize with regardless of one’s nationality. Jamie Chang, a professor at Ewha Womans University’s Graduate School of Translation & Interpretation, translated this Korean book into English. The English version will be published from Simon & Schuster UK next February.
Chang finished the translation of the book in a month, but the mandatory research prior to the translation and the entailed revisions took over a year. Although she was born in Korea in 1982, and could empathize with Kim Ji-young’s anecdotes, some parts were eye-opening to her.
“There were aspects of Kim Ji-young’s life that I hadn’t experienced,” Chang said. “For instance, I attended school in Singapore from when I was six years old until 11 and studied at a university in the United States. I now work as a freelance translator, so I did not realize how bad it was in workplaces since I do not have a boss.”
“At the same time, the book triggered my repressed memories such as how boys’ names always came first to girls’ when I was a child. I also realized that women’s stories are often framed by masculine devices just like how a male psychiatrist narrated Kim Ji-young’s stories. I immediately wanted to reread the chapters to find any parts the psychiatrist might have censored.”
Chang’s translation is another form of literature in that she did not contact the Korean author, Cho Nam-joo, unless she had difficulties visualizing the original text. Chang tries not to be interfered by the original version with all her translations as well as this book, so she met Cho for the first time this August.
For coined terms such as “Mom-chung” in Korean, she wanted to find an English word with two syllables like the Korean pronunciation. She translated it into “Mom-roach” since roach has the same “ch” sound at the end. As for the meaning, “-roach” well conveyed the metaphor of a parasite that “Mom-chung” carries; an expression to denigrate housewives who use husbands’ money without earning it by themselves.
After she finished translating, she started seeing glimpses of Kim Ji-young in her daily life. Her graduate students were Kim Ji-youngs as they juggled raising kids, doing chores, and studying translation. Their struggles became much more vivid to Chang as she now understood the feeling of isolation that women would feel while adjusting to their new lives as young moms. Chang believes the book will resonate not only with Korean women, but also with prospective Western readers.
“There are micro-aggressions toward women everywhere, just in different forms,” said Chang. “When Kim Ji-young tells her husband that she wants to work part-time at an ice cream store, he says that he does not want her to do what she does not want. As for the psychiatrist who narrates the story, he also expresses discontent towards his wife solving math problems.”
“Like this, they are already putting the blame on the women for not having a fulfilling career. Setting an example of a “successful” woman who is able to manage both housework and career seems unfair to most women in reality.”
Chang gave her last words through the line from Kim Ji-young’s female boss whom Kim admired.
“Guys do not do anything they are not asked to – you do not have to set the napkins or bring my coffee.”
Chang hopes her students would not underestimate their abilities and be more “selfish” when it comes to living their lives not as a mom or a wife, but as oneself.