Book - 2016 Man Booker International Prize Winner


The winner has been announced for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize...

Serendipitously in National Vegetarian Week in the UK, The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith and published by Portobello Books, has won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, as announced by critic and editor Boyd Tonkin at a ceremony at the V & A last night. Celebrating the finest global fiction in translation, this is the first year that the Man Booker International Prize has been awarded on the basis of a single book, after having joined forces with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize last year. The £50,000 prize will be split equally between the author and the translator and they also receive a trophy and an extra £1,000 for being shortlisted.

Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more 'plant-like' existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister's husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming - impossibly, ecstatically - a tree. Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

Han currently teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts. Already very successful in South Korea, she has been awarded the 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.

The translator, Deborah Smith, only started learning the language 7 years ago after deciding to become an English-Korean translator upon completing her undergraduate degree. She has since founded her own non-profit publishing house, Tilted Axis Press, which specialises in translating literature from Asia and Africa. In addition to The Vegetarian and works by Bae Suah, Smith has also now translated Han’s novel Human Acts.

Portobello Books was one of three independent publishers with novels on this year’s shortlist.

Boyd Tonkin, chair of the 2016 judging panel, said of the winning novel, ‘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. 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. Told in three voices, from three different perspectives, this concise, unsettling and beautifully composed story traces an ordinary woman’s rejection of all the conventions and assumptions that bind her to her home, family and society. 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. Deborah Smith’s perfectly judged translation matches its uncanny blend of beauty and horror at every turn.’

Emmanuel Roman, CEO of Man Group, who sponsor the award, added ‘I would like to congratulate Han Kang and Deborah Smith, the first winners of the newly evolved Man Booker International Prize, as well as all of this year’s finalists. We are very proud to sponsor the Prize, which supports the recognition of talented authors and translators globally. The prize underscores Man Group's charitable focus on literacy and education and, together with the wider charitable activities of the Booker Prize Foundation, plays a very important role in promoting literary excellence on a global scale that we are honoured to support.’

The full 2016 Man Booker International Shortlist was as follows:

Title (imprint) Author (nationality) Translator
A General Theory of Oblivion (Harvill Secker), José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola), Daniel Hahn (UK)
The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions), Elena Ferrante (Italy), Ann Goldstein (USA)
The Vegetarian (Portobello Books), Han Kang (South Korea), Deborah Smith (UK)
A Strangeness in My Mind (Faber & Faber), Orhan Pamuk (Turkey), Ekin Oklap (Turkey)
A Whole Life (Picador), Robert Seethaler (Austria), Charlotte Collins (UK)
The Four Books (Chatto & Windus), Yan Lianke (China), Carlos Rojas (USA)

Image & synopsis - Amazon