Words Without Borders (WWB): What drew you to Han Kang’s work?
Deborah Smith (DS): Well, I first encountered her writing through The Vegetarian, and what drew me to that was the structure, the imagery, the tonal variation, the ferocity of the emotions, the restraint of the language . . . everything it’s been praised for.
WWB: What was unique about this translation compared to others you’d done?
DS: The White Book is a novel, but a novel of prose-poems, and I’ve never translated poetry. But whenever I’ve translated Han Kang I’ve been translating a poet, so it wasn’t as different as I thought it might be.
WWB: What are you reading now, or which writers from the language and literary tradition you translate do you think readers ought to pay attention to as potential future MBI winners?
DS: Slightly cheat answer: Hamid Ismailov, whose Russian-language novels have all garnered great acclaim in translation. Tilted Axis just published The Devils’ Dance, the first of his Uzbek originals to make it into English (courtesy of Donald Rayfield and John Farndon) and the reviews have been incredible. Other future winners I’d like to see, aside from all our other TAP authors: Marie NDiaye, Maylis de Kerangal, Jenny Erpenbeck, Roy Jacobsen, Scholastique Mukasonga, and Olga Tokarczuk, if she doesn’t get it this time!