Han Kang’s Vegetarian wins the Man Booker International Prize

Deborah Smith and Han Kang

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:

Links and subsequent updates on the translation debate:

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