IBTimes UK

South Korean author Han Kang has won the Man Booker International Prize for her book 'The Vegetarian'.

The writer and her British translator share the £50,000 ($72,000) prize money. Han Kang is the first South Korean to win the prize.

The book was translated by Deborah Smith, who started teaching herself Korean in 2010.

In an interview with AFP, the 45-year-old author said: "I'm so honoured. 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," she added.

Judging panel chairman Boyd Tonkin said Han's work was "unforgettably powerful and original".

On the other hand, this was the first time the award went jointly to the translator. An emotional Smith said after receiving this award: "This was the first book that I ever translated, and the best possible thing that can happen to a translator has just happened to me."

"When I was 22 I decided to teach myself Korean... I felt that I was limited by only being able to speak English. I'd always read a lot of translations, and you get the sense of this whole world being out there, very different perspectives, different stories," she continued. "It felt as though I looked up almost every other word in the dictionary. It felt a bit like climbing a mountain. But at the same time just falling into this world that was so atmospheric and disturbing and moving — it was a wonderful experience."

Other writers in the race for the prize included Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, Italian writer Elena Ferrante, Angolan wordsmith Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Chinese author Yan Lianke and Austrian novelist Robert Seethaler.

Han Kang's novel was picked unanimously by the panel of five judges, beating six other novels including "The Story of the Lost Child" by Italian sensation Elena Ferrante and "A Strangeness in My Mind" by Turkey's Orhan Pamuk.

The international edition of Britain's Man Booker Prize was introduced in 2005. Previously, the award was given every second year to an author for their entire body of work but this is the first time that it has been awarded on the basis of a single book.