Int’l Booker winner Han Kang says “this is just the beginning”

Posted on : 2016-05-25 17:27 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
With newfound fame, Han’s international profile is growing as translations of her work spread across the globe
Novelist Han Kang talking about her book “The Vegetarian”
Novelist Han Kang talking about her book “The Vegetarian”

After being awarded the Man Booker International Prize, South Korean writer Han Kang stressed the untapped potential of Korean literature.

“Good translators of Korean literature like Deborah Smith, who translated ‘The Vegetarian,’ are starting to appear all around the world. Foreign editors are also starting to get interested in Korean literature. I think this is the beginning,” Kang said during a press conference in Seoul on May 24.

Han described what it was like to participate in a workshop for translators in Norwich, England last year. “When I saw there were 10 ways to translate a single sentence into English, I realized that translation is very interesting and meaningful work.”

“In fiction, I think that the tone, which is to say how the writer’s voice feels, is important. In that sense, Deborah Smith’s translation accurately captured the tone that I had intended as the writer,” Han said when asked about the English translation of “The Vegetarian.”

“Since foreign readers might not be familiar with the setting of ‘Human Acts’ - the events in Gwangju in May 1980 - Deborah changed a half page or so at three points in the book,” Han said. “But she consulted with me by email on every sentence as she was translating it. As the writer, I believe that nothing is missing and that the book was meticulously edited.”

“We’ve signed contracts for the publishing rights for ’The Vegetarian‘ in 27 languages - including Malayalam, a minority language in southern India - and we’ve already sold the publishing rights for ‘Human Acts’ in 10 countries,” said Lee Gu-yong, president of KL Management and Han’s literary agent, who was also at the press conference. “Chinese publishers have agreed to release all of Han’s novels, including ‘Human Acts,’ which they had been reluctant to publish before.”

“We‘re gaining some momentum in overseas sales, too. We printed 20,000 more copies of ‘The Vegetarian’ in England after it won the Man Booker prize, but those sold out over the past week, so we’ve agreed to print 20,000 more. And in the US, we‘ve moved forward work on the paperback from early November to Aug. 23,” Lee said.

 which recently won the Man Booker International Prize
which recently won the Man Booker International Prize

During the press conference on Tuesday, Kang described her literary oeuvre - ranging from ’The Vegetarian‘ (which was published in Korean in 2007 and in English last year) to her latest novel ‘The Elegy of Whiteness’ - as a series of questions. Her approach to writing fiction, Han said, was to pose a question in one work that she could answer in the next, which would end in yet another question.

“There are two novels that are linked to ‘Human Acts,’” Han said. “If ‘The Elegy of Whiteness’ is a more inward-looking book, then the novel I am writing at the moment, called ‘Spirit Trilogy,’ has more social context.”

“I wrote the first draft while I was staying in Warsaw, Poland, from the late summer until the winter of 2013. As I wrote it, I was thinking of someone who reminded me of that city, which had been bombed into oblivion by Nazi Germany in 1944,” Han said.

“I thought that this person might have been a woman who had lived for a brief time in this world before I was born and that if I could give her some part of life it would be white things. I had meant to write an essay but after a certain point I realized that it was fiction.”

By Choi Jae-bong, literature correspondent

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