Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book #6: 빨간 머리 앤 (Anne of Green Gables)

I can't quite figure out why reading Anne of Green Gables (Redheaded Anne in Korean) was so moving. Some of it has to do with teaching kids, which makes the book more relevant, and some of it probably has to do with the book's rural Canadian setting, and still some of it with the fact that it was written in Korean. This was the second book I've ever read in Korean, and the first was about a 10-page picture book about going to the dentist. By comparison, this was a 200-page paperback that I took about two months to finish.

In Korean, the book is written with a giddy, unbridled optimism that is probably more fitting of the young, childish Anne than the now-stuffy early twentieth-century prose of the original English. On the other hand, the Korean, which is written for younger kids, obscures the fact that Anne is growing up (at least for me). In discussing the Korean book, I came to realize that the green gables refer to the roof of the house, not the fields surrounding it as I'd thought for about 15 years.

I'm sure that any number of people who read the book see themselves in Anne, a loquacious, particular and sentimental girl that's easy to love. I was no different in identifying with Anne's loquacious and somewhat eccentric speech, though I certainly didn't see that in myself when I read the book as a kid. Reading the book probably helped out the 11-year-olds I teach, because in lamenting the crushing of children's wonder and sentimentality, I probably became less of a grouchy teacher.

One of the things I enjoy most about teaching is that kids are curious about something, anything, much as they grumble, "when are we ever going to need to know this?" Later on, with the prospect salaries looming, we tend to focus on utility, less on the sort of things that are nice to know but don't make you any money. Anne's interest in things, particularly the outdoors, for its own sake, her pure joy at trees and lakes, was refreshing.

I also enjoyed the book for its rural, historic setting. It would be an outright lie for me to claim anything resembling familiarity with Canada's countryside, but I've always admired it. Spending this weekend in a quiet speck of Korea's southern coast, I remembered Canada's rustic (if not rusting) north, where the Pepsi logos are old, people discuss fishing, and I generally have no business venturing. The book had belaboured descriptions of nature, which was certainly soothing given that I read most of it on Seoul's subway system.

Finally, reading a book in Korean was very difficult. If you don't understand a word, you can use all the other words you do understand to sort things out, but there were many passages where only having read the book previously made it possible for me to understand what was happening. As well, Korean has some saccharine, child-like qualities that make English seem somewhat brooding and standoffish. Department stores hang banners at the entrace that say "dear customer, we love you!", the subway has posters that say "the customer's smile is our happiness," and plain, earnest speech goes a long way. This makes everything more emotional, children's literature being a particularly good example.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anne of green gables is the refuge of bookish plain girls everywhere.

Some blonde hair dye and a pushup bra would completely erase its effect on any girl's mind.