South Korean author Han Kang has won the prestigious Man Booker International Prize for her “unforgettably powerful” novel ‘The Vegetarian’ which deals with a woman’s rejection of human brutality and giving up of eating meat.
Kang beat writers including Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and international bestseller Elena Ferrante to win the 50,000-pound award last night which she shared with her the novel’s translator Deborah Smith.
Published by Portobello Books, ‘The Vegetarian’ was selected unanimously among 155 books by a panel of five judges chaired by noted critic and editor Boyd Tonkin who described Kang’s work as “lyrical and lacerating”.
Kang, 45, who currently teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts, is already very popular in South Korea and has won Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award.
‘The Vegetarian’ is her first novel to be translated into English by 28-year-old Smith who started learning Korean only at the age of 21 and will share the 50,000-pound award with Kang.
“The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith, is an unforgettably powerful and original novel that richly deserves to win the Man Booker International Prize 2016,” said Tonkin.
“After our selection of a diverse and distinguished longlist, and a shortlist of six truly outstanding novels in first-rate translations, the judges unanimously chose The Vegetarian as our winner,” Tonkin said.
The Vegetarian is a three-part novel that follows the story of Yeong-hye, a dutiful Korean wife who, spurred on by a dream, decides one day to become a vegetarian, something that is extremely uncommon in South Korean society.
This subversive act fractures her familial life and affects her relationships with the people around her, including her sister and her brother-in-law, an artist who becomes obsessed with her.
“Across the three parts, we are pressed up against a society’s most inflexible structures – expectations of behaviour, the workings of institutions – and we watch them fail one by one…It’s a bracing, visceral, system-shocking addition to the Anglophone reader’s diet,” ‘The Guardian’ said.
It is sensual, provocative and violent, ripe with potent images, startling colours and disturbing questions, the daily said.
Told in three voices, from three different perspectives, the concise, unsettling and beautifully composed novel traces an ordinary woman’s rejection of all the conventions and assumptions that bind her to her home, family and society, Tonkin said.
“In a style both lyrical and lacerating, it reveals the impact of this great refusal both on the heroine herself and on those around her. This compact, exquisite and disturbing book will linger long in the minds, and maybe the dreams, of its readers,” Tonkin added.