The news that Han Kang and Deborah Smith had won the Man Booker International prize for The Vegetarian, sharing £50,000 between them, reached me on Tuesday morning, 17th May, in a hotel room of a vast Lotte resort celebrating Baekje cultural heritage just outside of Buyeo, Chungcheongnamdo. I saw the news on Facebook, and just managed to catch the last sentence of a brief interview with Han on the BBC world service news at 8am local time – it made the midnight news back home.
As I have been pretty much constantly on the road it has been very difficult to write anything, so this post is rather belated. As I travelled around, the news was a frequent subject for conversation. When I visited the governor of Sancheong county, for example, he brought up the topic, and I managed to bask for a while in reflected glory when I could boast that I once had lunch with Deborah, who has suddenly become a well-known name in Korea.
And did I read this on Facebook, or was it in conversation as I travelled? Han is of course delighted at the prize, but somehow wishes that it was her more recent work, Human Acts (also translated by Deborah), that was in the limelight rather than the 8-year old Vegetarian. One of my companions on the road thought that Human Acts was a lot better, commenting that nobody in Korea would react to someone renouncing meat as Young-hye’s extended family did.
Krys Lee said “I saw Han Kang a few days before she left and told her she would win, as the book is brilliant. Good in translation, incredible in Korean.”
By way of celebration, Deborah tweeted:
Advice from friends along the lines of 'just don't get lashed and make a twat of yourself like usual.' Cheers guys, I'll take that on board.
— Deborah Smith (@londonkoreanist) May 16, 2016
Links and subsequent updates on the translation debate:
- LKL reviews of The Vegetarian and Human Acts.
- For Nobel Prize, Oh Young-jin, Korea Times, 18 May 2016
- Unhappy about Man Booker editorial, Brother Anthony of Taize, Korea Times, 23 May 2016
- On the Joyful Tears of being a translator, Sophie Hughes, Literary Hub, 20 May 2016
- Raw and Cooked, Tim Parks, New York Review of Books, 20 June 2016 – and the conversation it generates on Facebook.
- Making case for ‘The Vegetarian,’ literary translation, Kang Hyun-kyung, Korea Times, 4 Jan 2018.
- Lost in (mis)translation? English take on Korean novel has critics up in arms, Claire Armitstead, Guardian, 15 Jan 2018
- Award-winning novel ‘The Vegetarian’ fraught with errors, Kwak Yeon-soo, Korea Times, 3 Apr 2018