English translator wins the Man Booker International Prize after studying Korean for only 7 years
With the news that South Korean writer Hang Kang has won the prestigious Man Booker International Prize, the spotlight has also shined on her book's English translator. We K-drama fans interested in learning Korean are particularly delighted to find out that the translator didn't even know how to speak Korean, much less translate Korean to English, until a few years ago. How did she do it?
The prestigious Man Booker International Prize is awarded each year for the best original novel that is translated into English. This year, the award goes to the South Korean writer Hang Kang for her book The Vegetarian, which tells the story of a woman who gives up eating meat to the surprise of people around her.
Sharing the award and the £50,000 prize is the translator, Deborah Smith, a 28-year-old British woman who only began learning Korean 7 years ago. Deborah had no prior experience with the Korean culture or the language, but decided to learn because, as she said, "Korean seemed like a strangely obvious choice, because it is a language which practically nobody in this country studies or knows." She also practically looked up every other word in the dictionary when she first started translating.
It is rare that the translator gets to share a literary award with the author. Usually a translator toils behind the scenes and not necessarily for a high pay, and the highest recognition to hope for is often just to simply have his or her name listed in the translated publication.
In explaining Deborah's indispensable achievement, Boyd Tonkin, chairman of the Booker Prize's 2016 judging panel, said, "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."
Deborah actually tried translating the book after learning Korean for 2 years, but admitted the result was awful. A year later, she tried translating it again when she was approached by a book publisher. The second effort was successful.
We would like to congratulate Hang Kang for her literary achievement with The Vegetarian. At the same time, we would also like to congratulate Deborah Smith for her contribution in introducing the book to English-language readers.
Furthermore, as someone who is bilingual and who would someday like to translate a Chinese novel to English, I'd like to thank Ms. Smith for shining a light on the valuable contribution provided by a translator (or in the same vein, an interpreter in oral translations) to bridge our often dissonant world of different cultures and languages.
Interested in the world of interpreters? The upcoming romantic drama Les Interprètes is coming soon to DramaFever! Add it to your queue now!
(Image credit as referenced or tagged)