South Korean writer and professor Han Kang and her British translator Deborah Smith have won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for fiction, the English-translated equivalent of the Man Booker Prize, which was won last October by Marlon James. Kang’s The Vegetarian, a three-part novel about a Korean wife’s radical decision to go vegetarian and the “increasingly bizarre and frightening” effect it has on her life, beat out works by Elena Ferrante and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk. She becomes the first South Korean author to win the prestigious literary award.
While Kang has already enjoyed considerable success in South Korea — where she teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts — The Vegetarian is her first novel to be translated into English. Smith, interestingly, had only been learning Korean for seven years before she translated Kang’s novel. Kang and Smith will split the £50,000 award, which this year is going to a single book (as opposed to a body of work) for the first time in the award’s history, following a merger with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. “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,” Boyd Tonkin, chair of the 2016 judging panel, said, praising The Vegetarian.