The Vegetarian, a novel about a woman who “wants to reject human brutality” and gives up eating meat, has won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.
The book was translated by Deborah Smith, who only started teaching herself Korean in 2010.
Judging panel chairman, Boyd Tonkin, said South Korean author, Han Kang’s work was “unforgettably powerful and original.”
The writer and her British translator will split the award’s £50,000 prize money.
The pair saw off competition from Turkish Nobel Laureate, Orhan Pamuk; Italian writer, Elena Ferrante; Angolan wordsmith, Jose Eduardo Agualusa; Chinese author, Yan Lianke and Austrian novelist, Robert Seethaler, to take the prize.
Smith, whose only language was English until she was 21, decided to become a translator on finishing her English Literature degree, having noticed the lack of English-Korean translators.
She said she was “certainly not a born Korean speaker” and still spoke Korean “very much like somebody who learned it from a textbook.”
“I had no connection with Korean culture — I don’t think I had even met a Korean person — but I wanted to become a translator because it combined reading and writing and I wanted to learn a language.
“Korean seemed like a strangely obvious choice, because it is a language which practically nobody in this country studies or knows.”
She said she initially tried to translate the book for a publisher after only learning Korean for two years, but the translation was “awful.”
However, after publisher, Portobello Books, asked her if she had a Korean book that would be “right for their list,” she had another go at translating a year later.
She has gone on to translate a number of Korean texts, including two Bae Suah works – The Essayist’s Desk and The Low Hills of Seoul — and has recently founded a not-for-profit publishing house dedicated to Asian and African literature.
Meanwhile, thrillers, The Perfect Guy and The Visit shared the honours at North American cinemas this weekend, coming first and second at the US and Canada box office.
The Perfect Guy, about a newly single woman whose new boyfriend is not all he seems, topped the chart with a first weekend tally of $26.7m (£17.3m).
But Mnight Shyamalan’s latest nail-biter was not far behind, taking $25.6m (£16.6m) between Friday and Sunday.
The films’ success has been attributed in part to a strong female turn-out.
An estimated 69 percent of The Perfect Guy’s audience were women, while The Visit’s audience was 60 percent female.
With its three black stars – Sanaa Lathan, Michael Ealy and Morris Chestnut – The Perfect Guy continues the recent trend for chart-topping films with African-Americans in leading roles.