The question of authenticity is important. How can writers tell and translate stories about marginalized groups without exploitation or appropriation? This question recently emerged in a debate over whether the translators of poet laureate Amanda Gorman should be black. Should Japanese Fiction Translators Be Japanese? Should the translators of the victims of Fukushima be victims of a disaster?
Miri and Giles’ storytelling and translation quality success provides a roadmap not through identity, but through experience: which the writer and translator need to do the job. The authenticity present in Miri’s writing and Giles’ translations emerges from the hard work of the writer and translator, work that turns into an authentic life experience. These stories are both solutions for how writing can give a voice to those left behind by society, and a recipe for doing it with sensitivity.
A translated version of Yu Miri’s upcoming novel “The End of August” is slated for release next year. This is the partly true story of Miri’s grandfather, who was a marathon runner in Korea during the Japanese occupation. According to Giles, this massive novel weaves into a multitude of voices to create a rich portrayal of life in Korea under Japanese colonialism.
“She’s already involved characters from Zainichi, but this time she’s going all out,” says Giles. “The novel is incredibly special, not least because she mixes Korean and Japanese in dialogue and prose, but she deploys so many creative ways to bring those voices in. I haven’t read any other novel like this in any language. It’s like training to run a marathon myself.
“The End of August” will become a novel by Miri, extended to an epic scale in terms of storytelling and literary vanity. And if that sounds like the work we’ve seen so far, it will be lonely, beautiful, and a new testament to how literature can give a voice to the voiceless and radically change our outlook and our lives.