Translating the classics: an interview with Jaehwa Kim

Ashley Huizinga- Staff Writer

How many Dordt students can say that they’ve published a book? Well, exchange student and junior Jaehwa Kim can – although saying so now wouldn’t be entirely true. Kim’s book isn’t set to be published until 2018. Written in Kim’s native language of Korean, you may not see it on Sioux Center library shelves for some time, but the book has been in progress for a little over a year.

Kim’s book will serve as a guide to reading classics and other works from a Christian perspective and is aimed at new or young believers. He is writing the work in pieces, pulling together recently conducted research and creating a column once a month for the pamphlet of a church back home.

Kim, a theology major, says he found his original inspiration while reading during his 21 months of military service – particularly, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. Kim says that he couldn’t sleep for three days after putting Unbearable down, and he spent much of that time thinking and talking to those around him about Kundera.

“I felt so depressed reading it because he keeps bringing up history with the philosophy of Nietzsche and keeps saying that we have to overcome something – some kind of cycle or circulation of being; but it seems like heaven and happiness are lost by overcoming this cycle to become a real being. I’m a journeyman, but according to [Kundera] I couldn’t get to heaven because I keep wanting to know more, to overcome in this life. So much in [Unbearable] conflicted with my understanding of God.

“I think there are more [Korean Christian] youth conflicted by the same problem. Some Christian friends were even concerned with my spiritual state because I read this book!”

Kim’s plan is, in time, to collect and publish the articles as a single book.

“Newton says, ‘From reading the classics, we stand on the shoulders of giants,’ or something like that. Some youth today forget to stand because they’re so afraid of these works. Hopefully, [my book] will show one way to understand the philosophers, because we shouldn’t have to fear what we don’t know. I know that the honor in everything is God’s, and anything can be used for Christian purposes.”

Kim says his research mainly involves reading – lots of reading – as well as listening to lectures by experts in literature and translation. In these, he finds that “God is infinity – we can’t ‘overcome’ God’s Word because it is so much greater than infinity. I can keep journeying in my faith and being challenged by His Word without fear of losing myself.”

Who knows, maybe you’ll see his works in translation one day next to Bonhoeffer, Kuyper and Mouw.

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