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South Korean Han Kang Wins Important Writing Prize

Winner of the 2016 Man Booker International prize for fiction Han Kang speaks to the media after winning the award for her book, "The Vegetarian," after the award ceremony in London on Tuesday, May 16.
South Korea’s Han Kang Wins Important Writing Prize
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South Korean writer Han Kang’s book, "The Vegetarian," came out in her home country many years ago. But the book was published in English only recently.

Han was named the winner of the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction on Monday.

The prize is one of the most important awards given for books translated into English and available in Britain. This is the first year is was awarded based on a single book. In the past, it was given to authors based on the full scope of their work.

"The Vegetarian" is the first of Han’s books to be published in English. She has another book, "Human Acts," now available in English.

"The Vegetarian" was put on the short list of contenders for the award in April. Han learned she won the prize earlier this week.

The other contenders were "A General Theory of Oblivion," by Angolan writer Jose Eduardo Agualusa, and "The Story of the Lost Child," by Italy’s Elena Ferrante.

Han will split her $72,000 in prize money with her translator, Deborah Smith of England. Smith began studying Korean in 2010.

"The Vegetarian" tells the story of a South Korean woman named Yeong-hye.

Yeong-hye has a dream one night. The next morning, she opens the door to her family’s freezer, and throws away all of their meat.

The book documents the reactions of family members to her new way of eating. Eventually Yeong-hye decides she no longer needs food at all, just water and sunlight, like a plant.

The prize’s judges said the book showed “extraordinary poise and tact and control.”

The Washington Post published a critique of the book earlier this year. It called the story “surreal” and similar to something written by Franz Kafka, the famous Czech writer whose books came out over 100 years ago.

Han speaks English well, but only writes in Korean. In 1998, she attended a three-month class at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, part of the University of Iowa.

Han says she likes Deborah Smith’s way of writing because it “corresponds with the sentences I write in Korean,” according to

Han’s next novel comes out next week in Korea.

I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English. It was based on stories from, the Guardian and the Washington Post. George Grow was the editor.

Have you read Han’s work in English or Korean? What do you think of it? We want to know. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

novel – n. a long written story usually about imaginary characters and events

surreal – adj. very strange or unusual : having the quality of a dream

poise – adj. having or showing a calm, confident manner

tact – n. the ability to do or say things without offending or upsetting other people

oblivion – n. the state of being destroyed

fiction – n. literature that tells stories which are imagined by the writer

contender – n. someone who tries to win something in a competition; a person with a good chance of winning