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Cheon Myeong-kwan's 'Whale' shortlisted for International Booker Prize

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : April 19, 2023 - 20:49

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Cheon Myeong-kwan (Yonhap) Cheon Myeong-kwan (Yonhap)
Chi-Young Kim (The Booker Prizes) Chi-Young Kim (The Booker Prizes)

South Korean novelist Cheon Myeong-kwan's "Whale" has been shortlisted for the 2023 International Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world along with the Nobel Prize in literature and the French Goncourt Prize.

The British prize was established in 2005 to honor an author and translator equally for a single work of fiction translated into English.

The novel, translated by Chi-Young Kim and published by Europa Editions on Jan. 19, was among six other shortlisted works, announced by the organizer on Tuesday.

The Booker Prize described the book as "an adventure-satire of epic proportions, which sheds new light on the changes Korea experienced in its rapid transition from pre-modern to post-modern society" on its website.

"'Whale' is a riot of book. ... vivid characters are foolish but wise, awful but endearing, and always irrepressible," said the judges.

The story of an ambitious woman named Geum-bok, who goes from being a mountain village girl to a small-town entrepreneur, was among the 13 preliminary nominations that were announced on March 14.

This year’s shortlist (The Booker Prizes) This year’s shortlist (The Booker Prizes)

Cheon is the fifth Korean to be nominated for the prize and the third to be shortlisted. Bora Chung's “Cursed Bunny” and Park Sang-young’s “Love in the Big City” were nominated in 2022; Han Kang in 2016 and 2018; and Hwang Sok-yong in 2019. Han won the prize for “The Vegetarian” in 2016.

After working as a screenwriter, Cheon made his literary debut with “Frank and I,” a short story. His first full-length novel "Whale," published in 2004, won the 10th Munhak Dongne New Writer Award.

In a previous interview with The Korea Herald, Cheon said the novel saved him during a dark period of his life. "I was at an impasse. I couldn’t do films anymore, so I started writing. ... It helped me to continue writing novels and it meant a lot to me.”

This year’s shortlist includes Guadalupe Nettel’s “Still Born,” GauZ's “Standing Heavy,” Georgi Gospodinov’s “Time Shelter,” Maryse Conde’s “The Gospel According to the New World” and Eva Baltasar’s “Boulder.”

The winning title will receive the award at a ceremony in London on May 23. The top prize of 50,000 pounds ($65,000) will be shared equally by the author and the translator.