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The Vegetarian wins the Man Booker International Prize 2016

The Vegetarian wins the Man Booker International Prize 2016





  • Han Kang and Deborah Smith to share £50,000 prize

  • Translator began learning Korean only 7 years ago

  • Winning novel published by independent publisher


The Vegetarian by Han Kang was tonight, Monday 16 May, announced as the winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. The novel was translated by Deborah Smith and is published by Portobello Books. Celebrating the finest global fiction in translation, the Man Booker International Prize awards both author and translator £25,000, along with a newly designed trophy. They have also received a further £1,000 each for being shortlisted.

Han is a South Korean author who 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 novel was translated by 28-year-old Smith, who only started learning Korean at the age of 21. Having learned no foreign languages until this age, Smith decided to become an English-Korean translator upon completing her undergraduate degree and moved to Korea to achieve this. 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 translated Han’s novel Human Acts.  

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. This subversive act fractures her familial life and, as Yeong-hye’s rebellion manifests in increasingly bizarre and frightening forms, turns seemingly ordinary relationships into those driven by violence, shame and desire.

Of the book, The Guardian said: ‘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. It is sensual, provocative and violent, ripe with potent images, startling colours and disturbing questions.’


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

The novel was announced as the 2016 winner by critic and editor Boyd Tonkin at an exclusive dinner ceremony at the V & A. It was selected from 155 books by a panel of five judges, chaired by Boyd Tonkin and consisting of: anthropologist and novelist Tahmima Anam; academic David Bellos, Professor of French and Comparative Literature and Director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton University; editor and academic Daniel Medin, who holds a comparative literature professorship at the American University of Paris (AUP); and prize-winning British poet and author Ruth Padel.


Boyd Tonkin, chair of the 2016 judging panel, comments:

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, comments:

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.’

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 divided equally between the author and the translator. 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 Kadaré in 2005, Chinua Achebe in 2007, Alice Munro in 2009, Philip Roth in 2011, Lydia Davis in 2013, and László Krasznahorkai in 2015.

The announcement follows the extraordinary research results conducted by Nielsen Book and commissioned by the Prize which demonstrate the rising popularity of translated fiction. The volume sales of translated fiction books have grown by 96% from 1.3 million copies in 2001 to 2.5 million in 2015 against a market which is falling overall (from 51.6 million to 49.7 million). Furthermore the value of sales of translated fiction have more than doubled from £8.9 million to £18.6 million between 2001 and 2015. Although translated literary fiction makes up currently only 3.5% of the literary fiction titles published in the UK, the volume of sales is at 7%.

The research has also revealed an outstanding increase in sales of translated Korean fiction in the UK: The sales of Korean books have risen from only 88 copies in 2001 to 10,191 in 2015, a reflection of the South Korea Market Focus at London Book Fair in 2014.

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.  |  @ManBookerPrize  |  #MBI2016 | #FinestFiction


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The Winner

The Vegetarian

Han Kang

Translated by Deborah Smith

Published by Portobello Books

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, commits a shocking act of subversion and becomes a vegetarian. As her rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, Yeong-hye spirals 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 South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

The judges comment: ‘The story of a Korean woman who awakens from uneasy dreams to find herself transformed into an enigma without a key. Evocative and suggestive, The Vegetarian startles for the depths of its strangeness.’

Han Kang (45) was born in Gwangju, South Korea, and moved to Seoul at the age of ten. She studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. Her writing has won the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today's Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. The Vegetarian, her first novel to be translated into English, was published by Portobello Books in 2015. Human Acts was published by Portobello Books in 2016. She currently teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.

Deborah Smith (28) was monolingual until the age of 21. Deciding to become a translator upon finishing her degree in English Literature, with no previous experience in this field, she chose to pursue Korean due to a lack of English-Korean translators. Her translations from Korean include Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and Human Acts, and Bae Suah’s The Essayist’s Desk and The Low Hills of Seoul. She recently founded Tilted Axis Press, a not-for-profit publishing house focusing on translations from Asia and Africa. She tweets as @londonkoreanist


Notes to Editors


  • Han Kang and Deborah Smith are available for a limited amount of interviews. Please contact Pru Rowlandson via | 020 7605 1373


  • The winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize was chosen from 155 entries. The 2016 shortlisted titles were:      

The 2016 Man Booker International Shortlist 

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)

  • The Administrator of the Man Booker International Prize is Fiammetta Rocco – Books and Arts Editor of The Economist. The Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation is Gaby Wood, who succeeded Ion Trewin after his death in April 2015


  • Books under consideration have been published in English in translation by UK publishers between 1 January 2015 and 30 April 2016. This will become an annual process, with the eligible period of publication in subsequent years being from 1 May until 30 April the following year


  • There is no restriction on the number of submissions per publisher but this will be kept under review and may change in future years


  • Four Colman Getty handles PR and event management for the prize and provides all events and administrative back-up


  • The Man Booker International Prize website includes detailed information about all aspects of the prize and runs regular news bulletins:  


  • The Booker Prize Foundation Advisory Committee, which advises on any changes to the rules and on the selection of the judges, represents all aspects of the book world. Its members are:  Richard Cable – publisher, Random House;  Mark Chilton – Company Secretary and General Counsel of Booker Group plc; Jonty Claypole – Head of Arts, BBC; James Daunt – Managing Director of Waterstones; Jonathan Douglas – Director of the National Literacy Trust; Maggie Fergusson – writer and Secretary of the Royal Society of Literature; Adam Freudenheim –  Publisher, Pushkin Press;  Derek Johns – Author & Literary Agent; Peter Kemp – Chief Fiction Reviewer, The Sunday Times; Nigel Newton – publisher, Bloomsbury; Fiammetta Rocco – Books and Arts Editor, The Economist (Man Booker International Prize Administrator); Michal Shavit - publishing director, Jonathan Cape; Rosanna Konarzewski  – Global Head of Communications and Marketing, Man Group; Eve Smith – Secretary, the Booker Prize Foundation; Robert Topping – Topping & Company Booksellers


  • The Booker Prize Foundation is a registered charity (no 1090049) established in 2002, since when it has been responsible for the award of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and for the Man Booker International Prize since its inauguration in 2005. The trustees of the Booker Prize Foundation are: Baroness Kennedy QC – Chair, former Chair of the British Council and Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford; Lord Baker of Dorking CH; Bidisha – writer, critic and broadcaster; Victoria Glendinning CBE – biographer; James Naughtie – broadcaster; Christopher Pearce – former Finance Director of Rentokil plc; Professor Louise Richardson – Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford; Ben Okri – writer and former Man Booker Prize winner. Jonathan Taylor CBE is President of the Foundation and Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, Sir Ronald Harwood and Baroness Neuberger are Vice Presidents


  • Man Group has sponsored the Man Booker Prize since 2002. A leading alternative investment management firm founded in 1783, Man Group was recognised as a partner who mirrored the quality, integrity and longevity of the Booker Prize. The prize underscores Man Group's charitable focus on literacy and education as well as the firm’s commitment to excellence and entrepreneurship. Together with the wider charitable activities of the Booker Prize Foundation, the prize plays a very important role in promoting literary excellence on a global scale that the firm is honoured to support


  • Man Group is one of the world’s largest independent alternative investment managers, and a leader in liquid investment strategies. Across its four investment managers (Man AHL, Man FRM, Man GLG and Man Numeric), Man Group has diverse hedge fund strategies and long only products spanning equity, credit, managed futures, convertibles, emerging markets and multi-manager solutions. At 31 March  2016, Man Group’s funds under management were $78.6 billion. The original business was founded in 1783. Today, Man Group plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange under the ticker EMG.L and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index. Man Group supports many awards, charities and initiatives around the world, including sponsorship of the Man Booker literary prizes. Further information can be found at

  • Booker is the UK's leading food wholesaler with over 170 branches nationwide.  It serves over 350,000 independent businesses


  • The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize joined forces with the Man Booker International Prize in 2015. Last year’s winner of the IFFP was The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from German by Susan Bernofsy and published by Portobello Books. The IFFP was launched in 1990 and ran until 1995. The Prize was revived with the support of Arts Council England in 2001 and was managed by reading charity Book Trust until 2005. The £10,000 prize money and associated costs were supported using public funding by Arts Council England, and the Prize was also supported by The Independent and Champagne Taittinger


Four Colman Getty

May 2016


Four Colman Getty