Monday February 12, 2018

'My translation contains some mistakes': The Vegetarian translator addresses her critics

Han Kang (R), author of the winning book The Vegetarian, poses for photographers with translator Deborah Smith (L) at the Photocall for the Man Booker International Prize at The V&A on May 16, 2016 in London, England.

Han Kang (R), author of the winning book The Vegetarian, poses for photographers with translator Deborah Smith (L) at the Photocall for the Man Booker International Prize at The V&A on May 16, 2016 in London, England. (Getty Images)

Listen 17:39

Not a lot of Korean fiction has found its way into English translation, but Deborah Smith has made it her mission in life to change that. She's an English translator for South Korea's biggest literary export, a novelist named Han Kang. She also founded a small publishing house called Tilted Axis, which promotes a lot of new Asian writing, mainly by women.

Smith is a big reason why Korean literature is now reaching a wider audience, but just recently, controversy hit. The debate involves her translation of Kang's Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Vegetarian. The book received a lot of praise when it first came out, but some think Smith's translation strayed too far from the original. The self-taught translator had only started learning Korean three years before taking it on.

We called up Deborah Smith in Leeds to get her take on the role and responsibility of translators. 

Produced by Frank Lockyer Palmer