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Novelist Hwang Sok-yong aims for global recognition after Booker nomination
2024-04-25
Korean novelist Hwang Sok-yong on Wednesday revealed his desire for global recognition for his efforts in depicting the struggles of working-class Koreans in "Mater 2-10."
 
Translated into English by Sora Kim-Russell and Youngjae Josephine Bae, the novel was shortlisted for the 2024 Booker International Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world, earlier this month.
 
"The thought of winning the award gives me a strange, nervous feeling," the 81-year-old said with a faint smile during a press conference in Seoul to mark the nomination.

"People around me have advised not to try to restrain my desire, so I decided to change my mind and harbor a desire to win this time," he said. "I also hope to receive the Nobel Prize for my next novel, 'Halmae [Grandma]'," he added, using the working title for the novel he is planning to write next.
 
The renowned novelist has been nominated for various international literary awards over 10 times in his career, which spans more than 60 years. But unfortunately, he hasn't won yet. He is also frequently mentioned as a favorite for the Nobel Prize in literature.
 
The novel depicts the lives of ordinary working-class Koreans through a story about three generations of a family of rail workers. Their story is reflected upon by a fourth-generation descendant who is a laid-off factory worker engaged in a high-altitude protest. The narrative spans over a century, beginning from the 1910-1945 Japanese colonial era, through Korean liberation and into modern-day Korea in the 21st century.
 
The book was serialized in a web-based magazine from 2019 to 2020 under the Korean title "Mater 2-10" and was later published as a standalone book by Changbi under a different title, "Three Generations of Railworkers," in 2020.
 
The author said the original title, "Mater 2-10," was named after a steam locomotive that was in operation by colonial-era Japan in Korea.
 
After Korean liberation, the locomotive was used by North Korea for transporting war supplies across the border during the 1950-53 Korean War before being destroyed near the border, he explained. It is now permanently displayed by the South at a security-themed public park in the South as a symbol of the Cold War.
 
"I felt it would be the perfect title for a novel depicting the lives of three generations of rail workers. People overseas also liked this title," he said.
 
Now based in the western port city of Gunsan, Hwang plans to write three more novels until he reaches the age of 90.
 
The three novels include "Halmae," based on a Korean folk story about a 600-year-old tree, and the story of Choi Si-hyung, who was the second-generation leader of Donghak, an academic movement in which Korean neo-Confucianism was founded in 1860, the novelist said.
 
The winning work for this year's Booker International Prize will be announced at a ceremony in London on May 21. The top prize of £50,000 ($65,000) will be shared equally between the author and the translator.
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