May 24, 2016 / 8:42 AM / a year ago

Booker International Prize winner urges fellow Koreans to read more

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean author Han Kang, whose novel “The Vegetarian” had sold just 20,000 copies in her home country before it became a candidate for Britain’s prestigious Man Booker International Prize, urged Koreans on Tuesday to read more.

Han won the prize for fiction last week with the novel, a dark, surreal story about a woman who gives up eating meat and seeks to become a tree.

“There are many writers whom I like and respect, who are quietly, silently writing in their rooms. I hope that you read them as well,” the soft-spoken Han, 45, told a news conference, her first back home since winning the award in London.

Han, a creative writing instructor in Seoul who shared the prize with the British woman who translated the book, Deborah Smith, has been catapulted to literary stardom with the win.

While relatively few Korean novels have been big sellers overseas, the country’s cultural exports, from music and movies to cosmetics and food, are creating a global buzz.

“The Vegetarian” sold about 20,000 copies in Korean from its 2007 publication to early this year, before its inclusion on the long list for the Booker International Prize, awarded to a work of fiction translated into English and published in Britain.

Winner of the Man Booker International Prize for fiction, South Korean author Han Kang, attends a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

A total of 462,000 copies in Korean had been printed as of Tuesday, Changbi Publishers said.

“I am overwhelmed. I had thought the previous 20,000 copies sold was good enough. I am thankful to everyone who is reading my books,” said Han.

Slideshow (3 Images)

In “The Vegetarian”, Yeong-hye, a dutiful wife, rebels against societal norms after struggling with gruesome recurring nightmares. She forsakes meat and stirs worry in her family that she is mentally ill.

Han comes from a literary family. Her father wrote the best-selling novel “Aje Aje Bara Aje”, which was made into a movie. Her brother is also a novelist, and her husband is a literary critic.

“I was raised enveloped in Korean literature. I read works from Korean and foreign writers, so I have affection as well as debt towards literature,” she told the more than 100 journalists at a cafe in a Seoul district popular with students and artists.

“I feel, and hope, that Korean pieces can be read widely. I feel that Korean literature is starting to become a trend, now is just the beginning.”

Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel

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