As a means of preparing for the 중급한국어능력시험 (Intermediate Korean Language Test), I am reading 생쥐와 인간, which is the Korean translation of John Steinbeck’s classic novella Of Mice and Men. I find that reading a translation of a book that one has already read in one’s native language is an excellent way to build vocabulary and to solidify grammar concepts without having to analyze the characters or the plot on a deep level since presumably you already did that when you approached it in your mother tongue. I think that the Korean translation is quite accessible for the intermediate Korean learner. A lot of the vocabulary and grammar are what one would find on the 초급시험 (basic level test), yet there is a sufficient amount of unfamiliar vocabulary too, which makes it a great study tool!
I have always been drawn to Of Mice and Men because of its universal themes of loneliness and friendship as well as Steinbeck’s clean yet masterful narrative. Over the years it has often been my go to book when I have needed to spend time with an old literary friend, and I thought that there was nothing new that I could learn from reading it again. Then I hit the top of p.13 in the Korean translation and found myself reading the following sentence over and over again.
“노력하고 또 노력했어. 하지만 소용이 없었어. 그래도 토끼 이야기는 기억해, 조지.”
“Tried and tried”, said Lennie, “but it didn’t do no good. I can remember about the rabbits, George.”
Simple minded Lennie can’t remember why he and George were run out of Weed or where they were headed when they stopped to rest at the river. He can’t recall that George had both work cards from Murray and Ready’s or even that they received the work cards in the first place. Lennie can’t remember that the “lady” who used to give him mice to play with was his own Aunt Clara. But, there is one thing that Lennie can remember – the dream of raising rabbits on a small farm with George, a dream which the two men often wax sentimental about. It appears as if Lennie only remembers that which makes him happy.
Now, I don’t believe that my life would be better if I had an inability to remember negative experiences which precluded me from making good choices, but as I re-read the text, I felt that I could learn something valuable from Lennie. When I reflect on an unfavorable interaction or experience that did not pan out the way that I had hoped, it is tempting to dwell on only the bad aspects of them. Or, when I consider my future, I tend to focus on forthcoming struggles and how burdensome they will be. Wouldn’t it be better if I could take a step back and remember what makes me happy and then focus on the things which bring a smile to my face? After all, worry and fear are only transitory states that we can certainly pass through if we allow ourselves to remove the albatrosses which weigh on us. Sometimes, I think we could all benefit from being just a little bit of a Lennie, don’t you?