'The Vegetarian', by Han Kang, a novel about a woman who "wants to reject human brutality" and gives up eating meat, has won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.
The book was translated by Deborah Smith, who only started teaching herself Korean in 2010. The writer and her British translator will split the award's £50,000 prize money.
The pair saw off competition from Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, Italian writer Elena Ferrante, Angolan wordsmith Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Chinese author Yan Lianke and Austrian novelist Robert Seethaler to take the prize.
About the book:
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.
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