‘The Vegetarian,’ a novel about a woman who “wants to reject human brutality” and gives up eating meat, has won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. The book was translated by Deborah Smith, who only started teaching herself Korean in 2010.
Judging panel chairman Boyd Tonkin said South Korean author Han Kang’s work was “unforgettably powerful and original”.
The writer and her British translator will split the award’s £50,000 prize money.
The pair saw off competition from Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, Italian writer Elena Ferrante, Angolan wordsmith Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Chinese author Yan Lianke and Austrian novelist Robert Seethaler to take the prize.
Smith, whose only language was English until she was 21, decided to become a translator on finishing her English Literature degree having noticed the lack of English-Korean translators.
She said she was “certainly not a born Korean speaker” and still spoke Korean “very much like somebody who learned it from a textbook”.
“I had no connection with Korean culture – I don’t think I had even met a Korean person – but I wanted to become a translator because it combined reading and writing and I wanted to learn a language.
“Korean seemed like a strangely obvious choice, because it is a language which practically nobody in this country studies or knows.”