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Interviews

The National Book Award Interviews: Anton Hur and Bora Chung

Anton Hur and Bora Chung discuss Cursed Bunny, longlisted for the 2023 National Book Award for Translated Literature.
Image of translator Anton Hur and writer Bora Chung semifinalists for the 2023 National Book Award

WWB: Can the two of you talk about how Cursed Bunny came into the world—first, the germ of the original language, and then the translation.

Bora Chung (BC): Cursed Bunny as a collection contains stories that I wrote in different periods of my life, under various circumstances. “The Head” was written for a school contest. And I wrote the title story, “Cursed Bunny,” as a part of a New Year’s project for the web magazine Mirror. We were planning to write about the Asian zodiac but other writers took the more glamorous animals such as the dragon, the tiger, the horse, etc., and all I had left was the bunny or the sheep. I don’t know anything about sheep so I chose the bunny.

 
 
Listen to Anton Hur discuss how he discovered Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny

Anton Hur (AH): I was actually looking for a book that was Korean and was speculative fiction because I really wanted to work in a genre that I loved reading in. I mean, before then, I was doing these very big, heavy historical books, which are fine, but not necessarily something that I am always reading since a child.

So I wanted to do something that was contemporary, speculative, something that I would enjoy and something that wasn’t too long because the last three books I did, they were just so difficult to do. I happened upon Cursed Bunny in a book fair where I just picked it up, loved the first sentence that I read, and then I read a little bit of the head.

Basically, I decided while standing there at the book fair that I wanted to translate this book. So I asked the person who was selling the book, I would like to meet the author or the publisher of this book because I want to ask them for translation rights. The person who was selling the books happened to be Bora Chung herself, who was helping out at the booth at the time. So I feel like it was fate. It was fate that I translated this book.

WWB: What particular translation challenges arose as Cursed Bunny was brought into English? Were they points that the author anticipated, or was there something of a process of discovery in which the author found that the translator shed light on unexpected aspects of the original-language work?

 
 
Listen to Bora Chung talk about her trust in Anton Hur
 

BC: I trust Anton completely, and I leave him alone when he works. The result is always brilliant, as you can see. In “Goodbye My Love,” Anton gave Model One a gender because the English language requires it. So Anton made Model One a she. Model one is a robot, so by principle it doesn’t have gender and Model One as a woman kind of surprised me. It gave the story an undertone of a queer narrative, and I love it.

AH: This book translated like a dream, any challenges I may have encountered in the process have melted away like snow in spring rain by the time I was finished. The challenges I remember are entirely administrative, as Korean speculative fiction in translation was not really a thing until right before the publication of Cursed Bunny when the double-whammy of I’m Waiting for You by Kim Boyoung, translated by Sophie Bowman and Sung Ryu, and the Netflix Squid Game phenomenon hit the pandemic-addled world. I had always known that Bora Chung would do well in translation, that she would at least garner a cult following. I visited every social media posting I could find on Cursed Bunny and left thank-yous. The challenge was getting people to pick up the book, because I knew that once people actually read Bora Chung, they would fall in love with her work.

WWB: The two of you have collaborated again on the forthcoming Your Utopia. How did that process differ from Cursed Bunny?

BC: Cursed Bunny was our first collaboration. Afterwards Anton tried really hard to promote me, and it worked. He published “The Head” in the online magazine Samovar and published another short story entitled “The Mask” in Valancourt Book of Horror, Vol. II. It was fun.

We have another collection of science fiction coming out soon, also from Algonquin. I think I gave Anton some headaches with this one. When I was preparing to write these stories, I read a lot of academic papers and quoted some of them. So Anton had to track them down and  make sure the citations were correct.

I generally rely on Anton in these matters and listen to his opinion because I was trained to operate in the academic field. I think I stayed in academia for too long and lost all sense of the real world. I’m still learning and finding my way around the publishing world.

AH: Cursed Bunny was our first collaboration, and we’ve just wrapped copyediting and typesetting on Your Utopia, which will be available next spring. I think I’ve translated ten books in between the two, so it was simultaneously a delight and a relief to return to an author I know so well. I think I’m less anxious about reader response this time around. Because Your Utopia uses more explicitly science-fiction elements compared to Cursed Bunny, which falls on a different stripe on the speculative fiction spectrum, I was just a tiny bit concerned with whether readers would follow Bora into what might feel like a different genre, but I think her readers will love this book. Ever since she published this book, I keep seeing robots around me. There are these cute robots rolling around Incheon International Airport now, and I was in a fancy art store in Chiang Mai where there were these sculptures of robots that looked so soulful that I tagged Bora in my Instagram stories of them. I mean, what is a human being if not a beautiful robot?

© 2023 by Words Without Borders. All rights reserved.

English

WWB: Can the two of you talk about how Cursed Bunny came into the world—first, the germ of the original language, and then the translation.

Bora Chung (BC): Cursed Bunny as a collection contains stories that I wrote in different periods of my life, under various circumstances. “The Head” was written for a school contest. And I wrote the title story, “Cursed Bunny,” as a part of a New Year’s project for the web magazine Mirror. We were planning to write about the Asian zodiac but other writers took the more glamorous animals such as the dragon, the tiger, the horse, etc., and all I had left was the bunny or the sheep. I don’t know anything about sheep so I chose the bunny.

 
 
Listen to Anton Hur discuss how he discovered Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny

Anton Hur (AH): I was actually looking for a book that was Korean and was speculative fiction because I really wanted to work in a genre that I loved reading in. I mean, before then, I was doing these very big, heavy historical books, which are fine, but not necessarily something that I am always reading since a child.

So I wanted to do something that was contemporary, speculative, something that I would enjoy and something that wasn’t too long because the last three books I did, they were just so difficult to do. I happened upon Cursed Bunny in a book fair where I just picked it up, loved the first sentence that I read, and then I read a little bit of the head.

Basically, I decided while standing there at the book fair that I wanted to translate this book. So I asked the person who was selling the book, I would like to meet the author or the publisher of this book because I want to ask them for translation rights. The person who was selling the books happened to be Bora Chung herself, who was helping out at the booth at the time. So I feel like it was fate. It was fate that I translated this book.

WWB: What particular translation challenges arose as Cursed Bunny was brought into English? Were they points that the author anticipated, or was there something of a process of discovery in which the author found that the translator shed light on unexpected aspects of the original-language work?

 
 
Listen to Bora Chung talk about her trust in Anton Hur
 

BC: I trust Anton completely, and I leave him alone when he works. The result is always brilliant, as you can see. In “Goodbye My Love,” Anton gave Model One a gender because the English language requires it. So Anton made Model One a she. Model one is a robot, so by principle it doesn’t have gender and Model One as a woman kind of surprised me. It gave the story an undertone of a queer narrative, and I love it.

AH: This book translated like a dream, any challenges I may have encountered in the process have melted away like snow in spring rain by the time I was finished. The challenges I remember are entirely administrative, as Korean speculative fiction in translation was not really a thing until right before the publication of Cursed Bunny when the double-whammy of I’m Waiting for You by Kim Boyoung, translated by Sophie Bowman and Sung Ryu, and the Netflix Squid Game phenomenon hit the pandemic-addled world. I had always known that Bora Chung would do well in translation, that she would at least garner a cult following. I visited every social media posting I could find on Cursed Bunny and left thank-yous. The challenge was getting people to pick up the book, because I knew that once people actually read Bora Chung, they would fall in love with her work.

WWB: The two of you have collaborated again on the forthcoming Your Utopia. How did that process differ from Cursed Bunny?

BC: Cursed Bunny was our first collaboration. Afterwards Anton tried really hard to promote me, and it worked. He published “The Head” in the online magazine Samovar and published another short story entitled “The Mask” in Valancourt Book of Horror, Vol. II. It was fun.

We have another collection of science fiction coming out soon, also from Algonquin. I think I gave Anton some headaches with this one. When I was preparing to write these stories, I read a lot of academic papers and quoted some of them. So Anton had to track them down and  make sure the citations were correct.

I generally rely on Anton in these matters and listen to his opinion because I was trained to operate in the academic field. I think I stayed in academia for too long and lost all sense of the real world. I’m still learning and finding my way around the publishing world.

AH: Cursed Bunny was our first collaboration, and we’ve just wrapped copyediting and typesetting on Your Utopia, which will be available next spring. I think I’ve translated ten books in between the two, so it was simultaneously a delight and a relief to return to an author I know so well. I think I’m less anxious about reader response this time around. Because Your Utopia uses more explicitly science-fiction elements compared to Cursed Bunny, which falls on a different stripe on the speculative fiction spectrum, I was just a tiny bit concerned with whether readers would follow Bora into what might feel like a different genre, but I think her readers will love this book. Ever since she published this book, I keep seeing robots around me. There are these cute robots rolling around Incheon International Airport now, and I was in a fancy art store in Chiang Mai where there were these sculptures of robots that looked so soulful that I tagged Bora in my Instagram stories of them. I mean, what is a human being if not a beautiful robot?

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