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Plagiarism charges haunt Korea's literary icon

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Updated : June 19 2015

In Korea’s moribund literary scene, novelist Shin Kyung-sook has been almost the only source of excitement.

With a growing international profile, the author of 2011 New York Times bestseller “Please Look After Mom” seemed to be Korea’s best shot at producing a world star, like what Murakami Haruki is for Japan.

Shin’s seemingly unassailable reputation here, and perhaps her fledgling global career, now faces a grave challenge after allegations of plagiarism surfaced.

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Shin Kyung-sook, the author of 2011 New York Times bestseller "Please Look After Mom," is swept up in a plagirism scandal involving her 1996 work "Legend," which allegations she denies.
On Tuesday, fellow writer Lee Eung-jun raised an accusation online that Shin lifted a passage from “Patriotism” by the late Japanese writer Mishima Yukio, translated into Korean by poet Kim Hu-ran in 1983, in her 1996 work “Legend.”

Lee, juxtaposing the parts from the two works, claimed that they bear striking similarities that can’t be explained as anything else but an act of plagiarism.

He even said that Shin’s alleged plagiarism is something that “the Korean literary circle has known as fact for a long time.”

Shin and her Korean publisher, Changbi, both denied the accusation.

“I don’t know the author or the (mentioned) work, although I read his book ‘The Temple of the Golden Pavilion’ a long time ago,” she said through a press statement. “Things like this only leave a scar on writers, regardless of the truth. I will not respond (to the claim) anymore,” she said.

Shin, 56, is one of the most widely read writers in Korea, having penned many bestsellers including “Where the Harmonium Once Stood” (1993) and “Deep Sorrow” (1994).

The writer, who debuted in 1990 with “Winter Fables” and has publicly said she honed her writing skills by copying great works of others, has faced plagiarism charges before. Most of the cases remain unsettled to this day. Nevertheless, Shin continued writing and found further success.

Her 2008 novel “Please Look After Mom” sold nearly 2 million copies in Korea and became her first English-translated book. Released in 2011 in the U.S. and later in other countries, the work catapulted Shin to international acclaim, earning her a number of international awards including the Man Asian Literary Prize from the U.K. She was the first Korean and woman to win the honor.
Her second English-translated book “I’ll Be Right There” was published in the U.S. last June.

The latest scandal, however, appears to shed new light on past plagiarism cases.

In 1999, a local critic pointed out that Shin’s work “Goodbye” has passages almost identical to some from Kenji Maruyama’s “Water Family.” Shin had denied the accusation.

The following year, Shin’s short story “The Strawberry Field” was revealed to contain six paragraphs lifted from another book with only a few changes. Back then, Shin apologized for “not being open about her sources.”

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)

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