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Winner of the 2016 Man Booker International prize for fiction Han Kang, right, with her translator who shares the prize, Deborah Smith Copyright: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Grant
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Grant

First South Korean wins Man Booker Intl Prize

May 17, 2016

Seoul-based author Han Kang has picked up the Man Booker International Prize for fiction for her novel "The Vegetarian." She shared the 50,000-pound (64,000-euro) prize with her translator, Deborah Smith.


Described as an unsettling novel in which a woman's decision to stop eating meat has devastating consequences, "The Vegetarian" beat off competition from 155 other entries to win the prestigious prize.

The 45-year-old Han (above, right) is the first Korean writer to win the award, and was chosen ahead of literary stars including elusive Italian author Elena Ferrante and Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk. She picked up the prize at an awards ceremony in London on Monday.

Judges praised the "evocative and suggestive" translation, her first book in English, and described how the short work had combined "tenderness and terror."

Three-part novel

"The Vegetarian" tells the story of Yeong-hye, a dutiful wife whose decision to forego meat uproots her whole existence as she transforms herself into a tree. Han said the book was inspired by the idea of "a woman who desperately didn't want to belong to the human race any longer" and built on her 1997 short story about "a woman who actually turns into a fruit."

Man Booker is the international counterpart to Britain's prestigious Booker Prize and is open to books published in any language that have been translated into English. It is one of the few literary prizes to recognize translators alongside authors.

The 50,000 pound (64,000 euro) prize money will be split evenly between Han and her 28-year-old translator, Deborah Smith, who only began learning Korean less than seven years ago. "The Vegetarian" is not just the first Korean novel Smith had translated, but the first she had read.

Han teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts and has won several literary awards in South Korea for her fiction.

Growth of translated fiction

Her novel beat five other shortlisted works, including Ferrante's "The Story of the Lost Child," which is set in Naples in the 1970s.

The shortlist also included "A Strangeness in My Mind," Orhan Pamuk's 40-year urban tale about a street vendor in Istanbul, and "A General Theory of Oblivion" by Angolan-born Jose Eduardo Agualusa, which uses black humor to tell the story of Angola's modern political history through the eyes of a reclusive woman.

The other two works were Yan Lianke's "Four Books," set in Chinese labor camps in the 1950s, and "A Whole Life" by Austrian writer Robert Seethaler, which follows the life of a young man growing up in a remote Alpine valley.

Previous Man Booker prizes have been won by Jamaican and Hungarian authors.

mm/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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