The Korea Herald

ssg
피터빈트

Hwang Sok-yong shortlisted for International Booker with intergenerational epic 'Mater 2-10'

Six finalists from six countries vie for the prestigious literary award

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : April 10, 2024 - 11:20

    • Link copied

Hwang Sok-yong (Gary Doak/Booker Prize Foundation) Hwang Sok-yong (Gary Doak/Booker Prize Foundation)

South Korean literary giant Hwang Sok-yong's "Mater 2-10" has been shortlisted for the 2024 International Booker Prize, the organizers of the British literary awards announced Tuesday.

"Mater 2-10," co-translated by Sora Kim-Russell and Youngjae Josephine Bae, and published by Scribe Publications, is among the six books on the shortlist for one of the world's most prestigious literary awards.

The five other titles shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2024 are: “Not a River” by Selva Almada, translated from Spanish by Annie McDermott; “Kairos” by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from German by Michael Hofmann; “The Details” by Ia Genberg, translated from Swedish by Kira Josefsson; “What I’d Rather Not Think About” by Jente Posthuma, translated from Dutch by Sarah Timmer Harvey; and “Crooked Plow” by Itamar Vieira Junior, translated from Portuguese by Johnny Lorenz.

The winning title will be announced at a ceremony in London on May 21.

The Korean edition (left) and English edition of The Korean edition (left) and English edition of "Mater 2-10" by Hwang Sok-yong, translated by Sora Kim-Russell and Youngjae Josephine Bae (Changbi Publishers, Scribe Publications)

Centered on three generations of a family of rail workers and a laid-off factory worker staging a high-altitude sit-in, “Mater 2-10” (titled “Three Generations of Railworkers” in Korean) depicts the lives of ordinary working-class Koreans. The narrative unfolds from the Japanese colonial era, through liberation and into the 21st century, spanning over a century.

This is the second time Hwang has been nominated for the award. In 2019, his work “At Dusk,” also translated by Kim-Russell, secured a spot on the long list.

“Over the past 20 years, I've been nominated for international literary awards a dozen times or so, but I’ve never made it as far as winning the actual award,” said Hwang to The Korea Herald, after the long list announcement in March.

"But I feel a little more excited about this one. Maybe this time, should we harbor some expectations?” he said. “Maybe it’s because I feel that I don’t have much time left, or because of my affection for this book.”

The book takes inspiration from Hwang’s own involvement in the labor and democracy movements and run-ins with the authorities: The writer was sentenced to seven years in prison for his 1989 visit to North Korea in violation of the South Korean national security law. He was released from prison after serving five years.

Translators Sora Kim-Russell (left) and Youngjae Josephine Bae (Booker Prize Foundation) Translators Sora Kim-Russell (left) and Youngjae Josephine Bae (Booker Prize Foundation)
The six books shortlisted for the 2024 International Booker Prize (Booker Prize Foundation) The six books shortlisted for the 2024 International Booker Prize (Booker Prize Foundation)

This is the third consecutive year that a South Korean author has been shortlisted, after Cheon Myeong-kwan last year for “Whale,” translated by Chi-Young Kim and Bora Chung in 2022 for “Cursed Bunny,” translated by Anton Hur. “Mater 2-10” is bidding to become the second Korean winner of the prize since Han Kang won it for "The Vegetarian,” translated by Deborah Smith, in 2016.

Established in 2005, the International Booker Prize is awarded every year to a book of fiction in any language that is translated into English and selected from entries published in the UK or Ireland. The prize recognizes an author and translator equally for a single work of fiction. The top prize of 50,000 pounds ($65,000) will be shared equally by the author and the translator(s).

Six countries -- Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Netherlands, South Korea and Sweden -- and six languages -- Dutch, German, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish -- are represented on the shortlist, according to the organizer.