The Man Booker International Prize for translated fiction, awarded last night to South Korean author Han Kang, is to be split with translator Deborah Smith, signalling a clear recognition of the translator’s contribution to literature.
Translator Deborah Smith is a 28-year-old Briton who started teaching herself Korean in 2010, having never learnt another foreign language. She decided to become a translator on finishing her English literature degree and noticed the lack of English-Korean translators.
The prize was awarded for Han Kang’s dark novel The Vegetarian, her first to be translated into English, and is about a woman who decides to stop eating meat and wants to become a tree. Her decision has devastating consequences and raises concerns among family members that she is mentally ill.
The shortlist also featured works by Italian author Elena Ferrante, Angola-born author José Eduardo Agualusa writing in Portuguese; Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, Austrian Robert Seethaler, and Chinese author Yan Lianke.
Beginning with this year's prize, the Man Booker International Prize is awarded annually for a single work of fiction, translated into English and published in the UK.
UK sales of translated fiction have grown from 1.3m copies in 2001 to 2.5m in 2015. Translated Korean fiction has grown from sales of just 88 copies in 2001 to over 10,000 in 2015.
The IoL Educational Trust (IoLET), CIOL's awarding body, offers the Diploma in Translation, a level 7 qualification recognised as the gold standard for translators. It includes a literary specialism and the organisation offers an annual literary translation award for excellence in the examination.
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