Korean author wins the Man Booker International Prize


From 2016, the Man Booker International Prize has evolved to encourage more publishing and reading of quality fiction in translation. The Man Booker International Prize was established in 2005, biennially rewarding an author for a body of work originally written in any language as long as it was widely available in English.

The 2016 Winner is The Vegetarian, written by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith and published by Portobello Books. The story revolves around Yeong-hye and her husband, who are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, commits a shocking act of subversion. As her rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, Yeong-hye spirals further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree. Fraught, disturbing, and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

The author Han Kang was born in Gwangju, South Korea, and moved to Seoul at the age of ten. She studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. Her writing has won the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award.

The translator Deborah Smith (28) was monolingual until the age of 21. Deciding to become a translator upon finishing her degree in English Literature, with no previous experience in this field, she chose to pursue Korean due to a lack of English-Korean translators The prize, which is awarded jointly by Booker Prize Foundation and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, honors a single work that has been translated into English. The writer and translator share a cash prize of 50,000 British pounds, or about $72,000.

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