Interview: 2016 Man Booker International Prize Winner Han Kang

What is life? What is death? Who am I? Writing means embracing these ever resilient questions as you move forward.





Hello, I’m Han Kang and I write novels. It’s always a very special and amazing experience to meet my readers. Translation is such a singular process where a book is completely reborn, and I am so grateful to be able to meet you through this demanding and interesting process.



Q. How did you become a writer?


I was always reading as a child. We moved a lot, so I changed schools a lot, and I remember reading by myself until I made new friends. So I was reading for pure pleasure as a child, and then I revisited those books when I was a teenager. I was asking all of those typically adolescent questions, what does it mean to be human, why do people die, what is life, who am I, and when I reread those books I was surprised to not find the answersthere were only questions, not answers. And I felt that the authors, the writers were as vulnerable and clueless as I was, asking and recording the same questions that I had. So I felt a sense of kinship with them, although of course I was only a very young and insignificant being, and I thought that if writing is about asking questions, and not necessarily finding answers, I could write that way too.



Q. Could you introduce yourself briefly?


I studied Korean literature in university. After I graduated I worked for about three years in publishing and magazines. I made books, I interviewed people and wrote articles, I went on trips on assignment. After I started writing myself, there have been times when I’ve been writing full time and when I teach on the side; and so the time goes.



Q. When do you feel fulfilled as a writer?


For me, to write is to endlessly question what is life, what is death, what am I. When I write, especially when I’m writing novels, I’m exchanging one, two, three, sometimes four years for that book. So when I feel that I’m going forward as a writer, when I see that I explored what it means to be human in a certain way in this book and I went another way in another book, that’s when I’m glad that I became a writer.



Q. Your novel The Vegetarian is about?


The protagonist is a woman named Young-hye, who sees vegetarianism as a way of not inflicting harm on anything. Eating meat symbolizes human violence, the violence of this world, and she chooses vigilant vegetarianism as a way of purging herself of that violence. But then she starts to identify as a plant rather than a human and stops eating entirely. She becomes completely exhausted, with the ironic result that what she did to redeem herself ends up killing her.



Q. How was The Vegetarian conceived?


I have an old story called “The Fruit of My Woman,” from ten years or so ago, about a woman who actually, physically becomes a plant and her husband puts her in a flowerpot and waters her and takes care of her. I always wanted to write a follow-up to that story, so that was my first motivation, and secondly I have always been curious about human violence, I wanted to explore if human innocence was possible, what someone would have to overcome to lead a completely blameless life.



Q. What message did you want to convey through this novel?


Can a person be completely innocent? What happens when we vow not to hurt anything? What is sin, and what is redemption? What is beauty? These are the questions that I hope to share with the ...