Saturday 1 October 2016

South Korean author Han Kang takes Man Booker International Prize

Eleanor Bley Griffiths

Published 16/05/2016 | 21:59

South Korean author Han Kang's novel The Vegetarian has won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize Photo: PA
South Korean author Han Kang's novel The Vegetarian has won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize Photo: PA

South Korean author Han Kang's novel The Vegetarian has won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.

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At a ceremony at the V&A in London, Han beat a diverse shortlist including pseudonymous Italian novelist Elena Ferrante for The Story of the Lost Child, Angolan author Jose Eduardo Agualusa's A General Theory of Oblivion, Austrian Robert Seethaler's A Whole Life, and Turkish author Orhan Pamuk's A Strangeness in My Mind.

Han and her translator, Deborah Smith, will each receive an equal share of the £50,000 prize money.

The winning novel follows the story of Yeong-hye, a dutiful Korean wife who decides to become a vegetarian. This subversive act fractures her family life and leads to further rebellion.

The Vegetarian is Han's first novel to be translated into English, although as her success has grown in her native country, a second - Human Acts - has now been published in translation.

Research by Nielson Book shows that sales of translated fiction have almost doubled in the past 15 years - from 1.3 million volumes in 2001 to 2.5 million in 2015.

The sales of Korean books have also risen from only 88 copies in 2011 to 10,191 copies in 2015, according to the research commissioned by the Man Booker International Prize.

British translator Smith, 28, who studied at Cambridge and SOAS, was monolingual until the age of 21 when she decided to learn Korean and become an English-Korean translator.

The novel was unanimously selected by a panel of five judges, chaired by critic and author Boyd Tonkin and consisting of anthropologist and novelist Tahmima Anam, Princeton academic David Bellos, editor and French academic Daniel Medin and British poet and author Ruth Padel.

Judging panel chair Tonkin said the novel, published by Portobello Books, was "an unforgettably powerful and original novel".

He commented: "Told in three voices, from three different perspectives, this concise, unsettling and beautifully composed story traces an ordinary woman's rejection of all the conventions and assumptions that bind her to her home, family and society.

"In a style both lyrical and lacerating, it reveals the impact of this great refusal both on the heroine herself and on those around her.

"This compact, exquisite and disturbing book will linger long in the minds, and maybe the dreams, of its readers. Deborah Smith's perfectly judged translation matches its uncanny blend of beauty and horror at every turn."

The Man Booker International Prize was first awarded in 2005, with previous winners including Chinua Achebe, Alice Munro and Philip Roth.

It was initially awarded to an international author for their entire body of work generally available in English translation.

Starting in 2016 it joined forces with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and is now awarded to a single book in English translation.

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