Ahn Hak-sŏp #4

September 2018

“Mr. Ahn was a political prisoner from 1953 to 1995. He currently lives in a farming village within the Civilian Control Zone, on the South Korean side of the DMZ. The CCZ was created by a U.S. Army commander after the Korean War in 1954, and it remained relatively vacant till the 1980s. The new settlements in the CCZ are commonly referred to as “DMZ Villages.” To enter the DMZ Village near the City of Kimp’o, west of Seoul, I had to pass a guard post manned by young soldiers. I also observed seemingly endless barbed wire fencing across the rice fields. Ahn, now in his eighties, remains a North Korean sympathizer. Every time a missile is test fired in North Korea, usually before or after the biannual, massive, joint US-ROK military exercises, Ahn is placed under house arrest. I recorded Ahn and also scribbled in my notebook while listening to his life story at his house, December 23, 2016. I remain a daughter of neocolony.”

– Don Mee Choi


Ahn Hak-sŏp #4 is an experiment in translation outside of language. In this experimental fragment, author Don Mee Choi combines the emotionally charged testimony of Mr. Ahn Hak-sŏp with her own imaginative interpretation of his words. Don Mee Choi relates a real account of detainment and torture, while using abstraction to point towards the unspoken. What becomes eliminated in the act of translating testimony?

Commands, words that exercise power, become interchangeable, impossible to identify one from the other. In the broken syllables, the author gives space for the visceral experience of language—the written sound. The human cry is without language.

Don Mee Choi draws our attention to the tenderly absurd place of the suffering human under vast political agents: from the image of Mr. Ahn’s toes, the author derives the images of planets. Just as she draws in her notebook, Don Mee Choi enacts translation as a form of tracing sounds (“e” is “이”). Tracing testimony, like the trick of mirrors, can reverse meaning. Don Mee Choi refers to the English idiom, “I am on cloud nine” that is used to express happiness. The author imparts upon Planet Nine this role of reflection, instead representing a planet of torture. Possibly, the planets appear as a form of Ahn Hak-sŏp’s receding from the “earthly” life that is controlled by political oppression, monitoring and torture. The absence of vowels in “convert, change, view” then becomes the silence of the “women’s or death’s song”, with the absence of the vowel is the absence of breath, and there remains only impact. The only universal translation is the end of suffering.

Don Mee Choi

Don Mee Choi is a poet and translator. She has received a Whiting Award, Lannan Literary Fellowship, and Lucien Stryk Translation Prize. Born in Seoul, she came to the US via Hong Kong, and now lives in Seattle.    She is a recipient of translation grants from Daesan Foundation and Literature Translation Institute of Korea.

She also translates for the International Women’s Network Against Militarism (IWNAM). Please visit and learn about IWNAM’s transnational work and issues that impact women and children and the environment.   She is an advisory editor for Action Books: Korean Literature Series. She teaches Adult Basic Education at Renton Technical College’s community-partnership site in Downtown Seattle.