Lonely Planet Writer

Will South Korea’s Booker Prize victory encourage readers to visit?

South Korean writer Han Kang beat the competition yesterday taking home with her the prestigious International Booker Prize for her book The Vegetarian.

Author Han Kang attends the 2016 Man Booker International Prize nominations
Author Han Kang attends the 2016 Man Booker International Prize nominations Image by Photo by Ray Tang/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

At the awards ceremony at the Victoria & Albert museum in London, Kang told the assembled press that the book had been difficult and gruelling to write.

“I’m so honoured” she told AFP news agency. “The work features a protagonist who wants to become a plant, and to leave the human race to save herself from the dark side human nature. Through this extreme narrative I felt I could question … the difficult question of being human.”

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul
Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul Image by Getty Images

Kang went on to mention that although the book is ‘difficult’ she hoped readers would continue to engage with it over the years.

In spite of its difficulty, The Vegetarian has been on the New York Times best-seller list for several months, and the big win last night is sure to increase its sales even further.

As has always been the case, novels and books inspire travel. Elena Ferrante, Kang’s contender to the award, whose books are based in Naples, has created an actual Ferrante-effect in terms of tourism. Another contender with strong connections to a geographical space is Karl Ove Knausgaard whose best-selling My Struggle series takes place largely in Norway. Someone like Elizabeth Gilbert with her hit Eat Pray Love inspired travel to Bali.

Korean author Han Kang and translator Deborah Smith
Korean author Han Kang and translator Deborah Smith Image by LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

The works of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald have immortalised Paris in the imaginations of Americans for decades, whilst Hans Fallada’s 2009 hit novel Alone in Berlin rekindled people’s interest in Berlin. Then there are writers who focus on one specific area over and over again, who make geographic locations mythical, like Alice Munro does with Ontario.

It is safe to assume then that Kang’s win will mean an increased interest in South Korea, where efforts have gone into expanding its tourism industry.

Coffee shop in Seoul
Coffee shop in Seoul

The book tells that Yeong-hye, a young woman in a state of crisis who after a period of nightmares and anxiety decides to stop eating meat. The act is interpreted as an act of subversion by her family and husband.

The novel is sure to pique travellers’ interest in South Korea, a country known for its K-pop and it’s technological boom which has remained refreshingly traditional and observant to its history and culture.

Seoul cityscape.
Seoul cityscape. Image by Global Panorama / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Interational Man Booker Prize has been taking place since 2005 as an alternative to the Man Booker. Its purpose is to  recognise works written in languages outside of English which have been translated. For this reason, recent wins have played such an important role in putting non-Anglophone language countries and their literature in the spotlight.