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I am absolutely ARMY, says BTS book translator Anton Hur

Korean translator Anton Hur chats about his favourite BTS song, working on his books, and being a writer on social media

BTS members in Los Angeles, California, in November 2021.
BTS members in Los Angeles, California, in November 2021. (Getty Images)

When K-pop stars BTS announced their new book, Beyond The Story: 10-Year Record of BTS, in May, the internet predictably exploded.

ARMY—as BTS fans call themselves—propelled the book to best-seller lists through pre-orders. And when the book was released in India on 9 July, stores reported sales records that smashed the already-dizzying expectations.

Beyond The Storyis a faithful record of the story of BTS’ rise, from inception in 2013 to the present day. The super-popular band, with members Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook, has broken records in South Korea, the US and other parts of the world and is credited with being the leader of the Korean Wave. Initially written in Korean by journalist Myeongseok Kang and the boys, the book is more a collector’s item than a journalistic work. There are glimpses into the group’s lives as they started training in pop-star boot camps where the Korean music industry finds its “idols” (or pop groups, usually all-girl or all-boy bands).

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ARMY will love the thorough exploration of all the mini- and full-length albums put out by the team so far. They will also love the many references to events already known in the fandom—from scandalous podcast episodes in which the boys were insulted, to breakout performances at massive events like the Billboard Music Awards in the US. It’s a book made for the fans, and as a tribute to the fans for their loyalty and love.

Translator Anton Hur, along with fellow translators Clare Richards and Slin Jung, has made the book available to fans, and to anyone with an interest in pop culture, in English. Hur has translated more than a dozen books and contributed to many others. Along with Korean writer Bora Chung, he was shortlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize for her book Cursed Bunny, which he translated into English. In an email chat, Seoul-based Hur tells Lounge about his favourite BTS song, his forthcoming work, and why he may end up quitting translation someday. Edited excerpts:

Are you a BTS fan, especially of book-lover RM? Do you have a favourite song by them?

I am absolutely ARMY! And RM should be president. My favourite BTS song would have to be Boy With Luv because I listened to it incessantly—like, thousands of times—throughout translating the BTS book. It is the perfect song. Everyone’s voice sounds so good but especially J-Hope’s in his rap, it pushes me to the brink of tears with joy.

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Of the solo songs, I have listened to Jin’s Abyss the most, over and over again. Isn’t that the most transcendentally beautiful song you have ever heard? It’s about falling into the abyss but there’s such honesty in its confrontation with such a dark emotion, and that honesty and vulnerability is paradoxically what enables the listener to confront and overcome the abyss in our own lives.

You said you first started translating for your mother. When did the transition to literary translation happen? Did a particular book lead you to it?

You are leaving out about 20 years of professional translation in between translating for my mother and literary translation. (That) was so lucrative and intellectually rewarding that I never felt like I needed to do literary translation. It was something to do before I went into writing my own work, until I managed to get something into Words Without Borders(a digital magazine). Soon after, I landed my first book, The Court Dancerby Kyung-Sook Shin (Pegasus Books, 2018)

(For me, professional and literary translation) are completely separate. People kept throwing translation jobs at me when they learnt I was bilingual and I basically built a client list out of that. Whereas I had to very deliberately work to become a literary translator. There were, and are, almost no professional literary translators working from Korean to English.


Beyond The Story: 10-Year Record of BTS; By BTS and Myeongseok Kang, translated by Anton Hur, Clare Richards and Slin Jung, Pan Macmillan UK, 544 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>2,499
Beyond The Story: 10-Year Record of BTS; By BTS and Myeongseok Kang, translated by Anton Hur, Clare Richards and Slin Jung, Pan Macmillan UK, 544 pages, 2,499

Any translators you are inspired by?

Iadmire Arunava Sinha for how prolific and eclectic he is. I find younger translators endlessly inspiring because they always bring something new, fresh and interesting into publication, such as the Japanese translator Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda, with whom I am working on a joint Korean-Japanese project. I was also influenced by how my Korean co-translator (of Beyond The Story) Clare Richards works—she has a much more rational approach tothe translation career than I do.

What, for you, is the greatest challenge of translation? What is the greatest satisfaction?

The greatest challenge is dealing with industry issues outside of actual translating. Like late grant payments from LTI Korea (Literature Translation Institute of Korea) that I am entitled to by contract. It’s the bureaucracy that will make me quit translation someday, mark my words.

The greatest satisfaction is when readers tell me they love a book I translated. Thereason we do this isn’t money, of which there isn’t much, or awards, which I never win, but the feeling that we are connecting great works with thoughtful readers.

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What is your relationship with the source text?

It’s something I have a dialogue with. It’s like having a conversation with a living person.

Would you consider working with a different language in the literary translation space?

I would love to work with French just to annoy the hell out of all the French translators. Albert Camus’ work enters public domain in 2031 apparently.

Your blog has posts on your translation methods, cover letters and more. Did you ever plan it for it to be a guide for new translators?

No, I just did it because I was bored... But there are some things I want to keep updating, like my pitch guide for translators, so I put it on the blog.

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You are active on social media. How is social media useful for your work—I read that you approached author Sang Young Park on Twitter to work with ‘Love In The Big City’?

The Anglophonic publishing industry lives on Twitter, so it’s kind of a career necessity at this point, although I do find readers are also following me on it. Building a readership is crucial in sustaining your career as a literary professional. The contemporary landscape is so cut-throat that part of making a living as a writer is “being a writer” and not just writing. I like social media because I get to thank readers directly. I am very grateful that they would pick up a book I have worked on and post about it, the least I can do is say thank you.

Tell us about your recent translation projects.

Apart from I Went To See My Father, a book of realist fiction by Kyung-Sook Shin (April, Penguin Random House), there is Counterweight, a science fiction thriller by Djuna (July, Penguin Random House). It has interesting attitudes about AI, which I think are useful in our current climate. Indeterminate Inflorescence,by Lee Seong-bok (expected September), a book of aphorisms on how to write poetry, changed the way I look at writing and changed my life. It enabled me to write my first novel, which we will announce this year.

Rush Mukherjee is a Kolkata-based writer.

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