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Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian’ wins Man Booker Prize 2016 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016,11:21 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

London |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.  Celebrating the finest global fiction in translation, the Man Booker International Prize awards both author and translator 25,000 pounds, along with a newly designed trophy. They have also received a further 1,000 pound each for being shortlisted.

There were no Indian authors in the race for the prize this year. 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, said Emmanuel Roman, CEO of Man Group. We are very proud to sponsor the Prize, which supports the recognition of talented authors and translators globally, Roman said. 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.

In its prior form honouring a whole body of work published either originally in English or available in translation in the English language, the prize was awarded to Ismail Kadare in 2005, Chinua Achebe in 2007, Alice Munro in 2009, Philip Roth in 2011, Lydia Davis in 2013, and Laszlo Krasznahorkai in 2015. The prize is sponsored by Man Group, one of the world’s largest independent alternative investment managers, which also sponsors the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Both prizes strive to recognise and reward the finest in contemporary literature.


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