4 Recent Memoirs in Translation

 

Hwang Sok-yong

The Prisoner: A Memoir

Trans. Sora Kim-Russell & Anton Hur

Verso, 2021

Written by renowned Korean author and famous democracy activist Hwang Sok-yong, The Prisoner tells the story of his five-year imprisonment in the Seoul Detention Center. Hwang was sentenced to seven years in prison in 1993 due to an unauthorized trip to the North to encourage more collaboration between artists in North and South Korea. Five years later, he received a special pardon from the president. Before he was released, however, he spent his days considering other areas of both his life and that of others like him which acted as prisons, such as writing, Cold War nations, and the heart. The Prisoner travels through time as Hwang delves into his life as a child growing up in Pyongyang, as an activist expressing opposition to South Korea’s military dictatorships, as a soldier fighting in the Vietnam War, and as a dissident writer. In doing so, he analyzes the evolutions of Korean society he has witnessed and how his life has been tied to them.

 

Marina Jarre

Distant Fathers : A Memoir

Trans. Ann Goldstein

Apollo, 2022

Latvian author Marina Jarre’s Distant Fathers, translated by Ann Goldstein, is an evocative memoir telling the story of her life beginning in her native Latvia in the 1920s and ’30s and transitioning south to the Italian countryside. Jarre’s poignant prose reminisces in fragments on her familial relationships during the remarkable trials of her life. In a nonlinear fashion, the memoir walks readers through Jarre’s early childhood in Latvia, where she experiences life as a linguistic minority in the Baltic nation. After her parents go through a divorce—in which she ends up moving to Italy with her maternal grandparents—the entirety of her father’s side of the family is killed in the Holocaust. In Italy she lives in a community of French-speaking Waldensian Protestants and finds herself facing new trials as she grows up a Riga-born Jew in fascist Italy. Distant Fathers eloquently faces universal issues of belonging, womanhood, and self-reflection.

 

Jan Grue

I Live a Life Like Yours: A Memoir

Trans. B. L. Crook

FSG Originals, 2021

Diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at the age of three, Jan Grue’s refreshing memoir reminds us to love the life we’re given. Now a professor at the University of Oslo, Grue reflects on various periods of his life to explore the human condition through the lens of someone who wasn’t expected to live past the age of twenty. He also ruminates on the complexity of his experience as a disabled person who grew up with certain privileges, such as being born into an upper-middle-class family with committed, loving parents. Grue’s memoir provides an important insight into living with a disability and his journey accepting, as well as defying, his diagnosis. Although his life is an extraordinary one, Grue’s story prompts readers to examine their own interconnectedness with the environment they live in. The eye-opening memoir functions as both a reflection on Grue’s life thus far as well as a critique of Norway’s accessibility for people with disabilities.

 

Marc Petitjean

Back to Japan: The Life and Art of Master Kimono Painter Kunihiko Moriguchi

Trans. Adriana Hunter

Other Press, 2021

Writer, filmmaker, and photographer Marc Petitjean’s latest work offers a candid account of famed textile artist and friend Kunihiko Moriguchi. The book looks back on Petitjean’s journey as a Kimono designer whose influences traverse both Japanese and French culture. A testament to Moriguchi’s innovation and creativity within the world of fashion, Petitjean follows Moriguchi’s life from his childhood in Kyoto, his time studying at École des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and his return back to Japan where he followed in his father’s footsteps, a renowned kimono painter. The return to his homeland, where he modernized the craft of yuzen, helped define Moriguchi’s creative voice, and his Western aesthetic served to personalize it. Since then, he has received the Japanese Medal of Honor in 2001 and was named a living national treasure of Japan in 2007. Back to Japan is written with the detail of a documentarian on the trajectory of Moriguchi’s life and art while also exploring how his defining decision to return to his homeland shaped them.

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Alexandra McManus is from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Oklahoma studying communications with minors in editing and publishing as well as sociology. She has served as a nonfiction editor for the Tulsa Review and as a culture reporter for the OU Daily.

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