Deborah Smith (translator)

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Deborah Smith FRSL (born 15 December 1987) is a British translator of Korean fiction. She translated The Vegetarian by Korean author Han Kang, for which she and the author were co-winners of the Man Booker International Prize in 2016.[1][2] There has been some controversy about the translation, with Korean readers claiming that she may have taken some liberties while translating The Vegetarian. Smith may have mistakenly attributed certain parts of the dialogue to the wrong characters.[3] However, Smith has defended her translation, stating that one cannot translate text literally from one language to another, so liberties must be taken. Han herself has stood by Smith's translation.[4]

After graduating from the University of Cambridge,[5] Smith began learning Korean in 2009, as she found out that there were few translations of the Korean language available in English, despite South Korea being a modern country.[6][7] Smith founded Tilted Axis Press, a non-profit publishing house focusing on contemporary fiction specifically from Asia.[8][9] She is currently a research fellow at SOAS.[10]

Having learned Korean through written language rather than language immersion, she usually avoids translating fiction with a lot of dialogue.[11]

In June 2018 Smith was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in its "40 Under 40" initiative.[12]


In an article published by the LA times, it was reported that there have been claims of mistranslation by Smith of The Vegetarian from Korean to English. These claims came after the book won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016 and was gaining more attention both in Korea and in the international scene. The report said that a scholar stated that the readers of the English version had been "betrayed." The report also cited another translator who said that the English version of the book was more an adaptation than a translation. The writer of the article, however, still wrote of admiration for the English version translated by Smith. [13]



  1. ^ "Han Kang's The Vegetarian wins Man Booker International Prize". BBC News. 17 May 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  2. ^ Hannah Furness (16 May 2016). "Briton wins Man Booker International Prize for Korean translation". The Telegraph. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  3. ^ Yun, Charse. "How the bestseller 'The Vegetarian,' translated from Han Kang's original, caused some complaints in South Korea". Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  4. ^ Armitstead, Claire (15 January 2018). "Lost in (mis)translation? English take on Korean novel has critics up in arms". the Guardian. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  5. ^ "Deborah Smith: Literary Translation - Winner 2016". Arts Foundation. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  6. ^ "Verfreundungseffekt: A Question Of Humanity – Han Kang & An Interview With Deborah Smith". The Quietus. 26 March 2016.
  7. ^ "Dendrophilia: South Korean novel wins the world's biggest translation award". The Economist. 21 May 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2016. Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  8. ^ Alison Flood (16 May 2016). "Man Booker International prize serves up victory to The Vegetarian". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  9. ^ Jen Calleja (6 March 2016). "Verfreundungseffekt: A Question Of Humanity – Han Kang & An Interview With Deborah Smith". The Quietus. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  10. ^ "Centre of Korean Studies Members at SOAS: University of London". Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  11. ^ "Do North and South Korea speak the same language?". The Guardian.
  12. ^ Flood, Alison (28 June 2018). "Royal Society of Literature admits 40 new fellows to address historical biases". the Guardian. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  13. ^

External links[edit]

Deborah Smith on Twitter