Seattle Public Library: Cheon Myeong-Kwan with Heekyoung Cho — 'Whale'

Shortlisted for the 2023 International Booker Prize

Third Place Books and the Seattle Public Library welcome South Korean author Cheon Myeong-Kwan for a discussion of his novel Whale, translated into English by Chi-Young Kim. Originally published in 2004, Cheon's debut novel is a sweeping, multi-generational tale blending fable, farce, and fantasy—a masterpiece of modern fiction perfect for fans of One Hundred Years of Solitude. 

Cheon will be joined in conversation by Heekyoung Cho, Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Literature and Adjunct Associate Professor in Slavic at the University of Washington. This event is made possible by the author's American publisher, Archipelago Books.

The judges for the International Booker Prize write: "A carnivalesque fairy tale that celebrates independence and enterprise, a picaresque quest through Korea’s landscapes and history, Whale is a riot of a book. Cheon Myeong-Kwan’s vivid characters are foolish but wise, awful but endearing, and always irrepressible. This is a hymn to restlessness and self-transformation."

Venue: Seattle Public Library (Central Branch), Microsoft Auditorium, 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104
Time: 7pm

This event is free and open to the public. Registration is required in advance. This event will include a public signing and time for audience Q&A. Sustain our author series by purchasing a copy of the featured book, or request a hold at your local library.

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About Whale. . .


Whale is the English-language debut of a beloved and bestselling South Korean author, a born storyteller with a cinematic, darkly humorous, and thoroughly original perspective.

A woman sells her daughter to a passing beekeeper for two jars of honey. A baby weighing fifteen pounds is born in the depths of winter but named “Girl of Spring.” A storm brings down the roof of a ramshackle restaurant to reveal a hidden fortune. These are just a few of the events that set Myeong-kwan Cheon’s beautifully crafted, wild world in motion.

Whale, set in a remote village in South Korea, follows the lives of many linked characters, including Geumbok, an extremely ambitious woman who has been chasing an indescribable thrill ever since she first saw a whale crest in the ocean; her mute daughter, Chunhui, who communicates with elephants; and a one-eyed woman who controls honeybees with a whistle. Brimming with surprises and wicked humor, Whale is an adventure-satire of epic proportions by one of the most original voices in international literature.


Praise for Whale. . .

"A spry, cunning work of invigorated tale-telling. Cheon Myeong-kwan harnesses the ferociously erratic flow of shared narratives, embracing their natural disposition toward salacious detail at every turn. Whale is a billowing, boundless novel."
—Justin Walls, Du Mois Monthly

"Told in an omniscient and playful narrative voice, smoothly translated by Chi-Young Kim, this is a distinctly Korean take on Great Expectations, a tale of aspiration and folly punctuated with artisanal bricks and dried fish . . . an affecting theme emerges about the sins of mothers, while philosophical notions broach the comic . . . and the profound . . . The novel succeeds thanks to its multi-sensual atmosphere of strangeness and a conflicted protagonist who simply refuses to accept the mundane."
—Christian House, Financial Times

"Whale gives new meaning to the generation-spanning epic. Cheon expertly inserts metafictional jousts into his stirring prose, sardonically toying with our need for narrative even as he explores his characters' lives with heartfelt urgency. Wonderfully translated by Kim, Whale is an intricate work of art with unexpected riches."
—YZ Chin, author of Edge Case

"[Whale] redefines what fiction can be."
—The Kyunghyang Sinmun

"There has never been a novel like this in Korean literature . . . A novel that's more like reading out loud than reading quietly to oneself; its structure is like that of a folktale. You can feel the oral tradition in the rhythm of the sentences."
—Lee Dong-jin

Cheon Myeong-kwan is a South Korean novelist and screenwriter. Upon publication of his first story, "Frank and I" (2003), he received the prestigious Munhakdongne New Writer Award. His debut novel, Whale, published the following year, won him the 10th Munhakdongne Novel Award, and Chi-Young Kim’s translation has been shortlisted for the 2023 International Booker Prize. Cheon’s novels have been translated into Chinese, English, French, Thai, Russian, and Vietnamese. 

Heekyoung Cho is Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Literature and Adjunct Associate Professor in Slavic at the University of Washington. She is the author of Translation’s Forgotten History: Russian Literature, Japanese Mediation, and the Formation of Modern Korean Literature (2016), and the editor of The Routledge Companion to Korean Literature (2022). Her articles discuss topics on translation and the creation of modern fiction, translation and censorship, serial publication, world literature, and webcomics. Her current research focuses on print and digital seriality in cultural production, as well as graphic narratives and media platforms. She led the UW Translation Studies Hub with two other co-PIs in 2019-2022 to build a multidisciplinary infrastructure to connect translation studies communities at UW and in the Seattle area.

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