Korean is first woman to win Man prize

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am


South Korean author Shin Kyung-sook was last night named the first female winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize for an 'amazing story', weaving an intimate family tale with a portrait of modern Korea.

Shin's novel Please Look After Mom beat a wide-ranging field including works by Amitav Ghosh, Banana Yoshimoto and Yan Lianke in the annual competition for novels by Asian writers written in or translated into English.

The writer gasped in surprise when she was announced the winner but in her acceptance speech said, 'If I were to say that I had no expectations or hopes it wouldn't be true.'

She said she wanted the world to know the story of life in the world's only divided country.

'People who have fled the North and who have arrived in China are being sent back to the North. People who left the country to gain a life have been turned back to their deaths.' Shin said that as a Korean writing in Korean her success felt like a new start that made her very happy.

'There are a lot of novels and books in Korea which are not necessarily translated but are really good books and perhaps this will open up more opportunities for those writers to be translated and heard outside of Korea.'

Panel chairwoman Razia Iqbal said the judges chose the book, about a desperate search for a woman who goes missing on the Seoul subway, 'because we felt it was an amazing story'.

As well as a 'very, very intimate portrait of a family's search for their mother' it was also a portrait of Korea after the Korean war through the microcosm of the family.

Shin, 49, accepted the US$30,000 prize at a black-tie dinner at the Conrad hotel in Admiralty last night. The book's translator, Chi-young Kim, won US$5,000.

The book sold more than a million copies on its release in South Korea in 2009 and last year was the first of Shin's 13 works to be translated into English.

Iqbal earlier described this year's shortlist as the strongest since the competition was launched in 2007 as Asia's answer to the Man Booker Prize, which honours work by British and Commonwealth authors.

Previous winners include mainland writers Bi Feiyu and Su Tong.