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Han Kang wins Prix Medicis for 'I Do Not Bid Farewell'

Nov. 12, 2023 - 14:39 By Hwang Dong-hee
Han Kang speaks with a group of reporters after winning the Prix Medicis for foreign literature in France, Thursday. (Yonhap)

South Korean author Han Kang’s latest novel, “I Do Not Bid Farewell,” has clinched the prestigious Prix Medicis for foreign literature in France, the first time a work by a South Korean author has received the prize.

Portuguese author Lidia Jorge’s “Mercy” (“Misericordia” in French) is a co-recipient of the prize, which was announced Thursday.

The Prix Medicis is one of the four major literary awards in France, along with the Goncourt, Renaudot and Prix Femina awards.

Previously nominated for the Prix Medicis in 2017 for her work "Greek Lessons," Han Kang's "I Do Not Bid Farewell" was also shortlisted for the Prix Femina for foreign literature this year.

The novel, translated into French by Kyungran Choi and Pierre Bisiou, was released in France in August by Grasset, a prominent French publishing house, under the title "Impossibles Adieux," meaning "impossible farewells."

The Korean edition (left) and the French edition of “I Do Not Bid Farewell” by Han Kang (Munhakdongne Publishing, Grasset)

"I Do Not Bid Farewell" marks Han's return to the literary scene five years after clinching the International Booker Prize in the UK in 2016. The book delves into the tragic events of the Jeju April 3 Incident from the perspectives of three women.

“When people asked me what kind of book this was, I replied differently. Sometimes I said it was a story of profound love, or a candle lit in the abyss of human nature, or the history of the Jeju massacre,” Han said in an interview with the French publisher.

"If I were to trace back to the very beginning of this book, it would take me to the time when I quit the job in my twenties and lived in a rented room in a Jeju village.”

Her elderly landlady sought her help in delivering a heavy parcel to the post office. As they walked together, she stopped at a narrow alley and told Han that this was the site where people were shot and killed during the Jeju massacre many years ago.

“The vivid recounting of that massacre, in such frightening detail, left a lasting impression on me,” said Han.

Following the news of her win, sales of her book have surged. The sales of “I Do Not Bid Farewell” from Thursday night to Friday morning more than tripled compared to the previous month, according to Yes24, Korea's largest online book retailer, on Friday.

Han received the International Booker Prize in 2016 for “The Vegetarian.” She was awarded the Malaparte Literature Prize in Italy for “Human Acts,” a story about the 1980 Gwangju Democratic Uprising, in 2017, and the San Clemente Literature Prize in Spain for “The Vegetarian” in 2018. “The White Book” was also shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018.