An epic, multi-generational tale that threads together a century of Korean history. Translated from Korean by Sora Kim-Russell and Youngjae Josephine Bae.

Centred on three generations of a family of rail workers and a laid-off factory worker staging a high-altitude sit-in, Mater 2-10 vividly depicts the lives of ordinary working Koreans, starting from the Japanese colonial era, continuing through Liberation, and right up to the twenty-first century. 

Mater 2-10 was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2024, announced on April 9 2024.

The International Booker Prize 2024
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Scribe UK
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Hwang Sok-yong

Hwang Sok-yong

About the Author

Hwang Sok-yong was born in 1943 and is arguably Korea’s most renowned author.
More about Hwang Sok-yong
Sora Kim-Russell

Sora Kim-Russell

About the Translator

Sora Kim-Russell has translated works by Pyun Hye-young, Kim Un-su, Hwang Sok-yong, and Bae Suah, among others.
More about Sora Kim-Russell
Portrait of translator Youngjae Josephine Bae.

Youngjae Josephine Bae

About the Author

Youngjae Josephine Bae is the winner of the 2019 LTI Korea Award for Aspiring Translators and the 2021 Korea Times Modern Korean Literature Translation Award.
More about Youngjae Josephine Bae

Watch Tobias Menzies read an extract from Mater 2-10

What the International Booker Prize 2024 judges said

‘A sweeping and comprehensive book about a Korea we rarely see in the West, blending the historical narrative of a nation with an individual’s quest for justice. Hwang highlights the political struggles of the working class with the story of a complicated national history of occupation and freedom, all seen through the lens of Jino, from his perch on top of a factory chimney, where he is staging a protest against being unfairly laid off.’   

Group photo of the International Booker Prize 2024 Judges; Romesh Gunesekera, Natalie Diaz, William Kentridge, Eleanor Wachtel and Aaron Robertson.

What the critics said

Maya Jaggi, the Guardian

‘Mater 2-10 is a vital reminder that, while the Berlin Wall may have fallen, the Cold War lives on in a divided Korea. It traces the roots of postwar persecution of labour activists smeared as “commies”. Decades of torture of political opponents in Japanese-built prisons are revealed as a “legacy of the Japanese Empire”. Hwang’s aim, he writes, was to plug a gap in Korean fiction, which typically reduces industrial workers to “historical specks of dust”. Not only does he breathe life into vivid protagonists, but the novel so inhabits their perspective that we share the shock and disbelief as their hard-won freedom is snatched away.’

Irish Times

‘This book has “major work by major writer” written all over it, and it is certainly a novel of epic ambition and mostly convincing delivery. It is important not least because of its long perspective in depicting the plight of those marginalised by a succession of colonial influences: Japan, the US and global capitalism.’

Mater 2-10 is a stunning achievement. It is at once a powerful account that captures a nation’s longing for a rail line that would connect North and South, a magical-realist novel that manages to reflect the lives of modern industrial workers, and a culmination of Hwang’s career — a masterpiece thirty years in the making.’

Patrick McShane, Asian Review of Books

‘The story can be read as either an earnest story with noted sympathy for the workers’ movement and the activism of the Josen Communist Party during the struggle against the Japanese. Indeed the author claims the story was inspired by an aging former activist he met in Pyeongyang during an illegal trip to North Korea. Conversely, it could also be a satire of those who claim to work for the common man, but who are often more involved in esoteric ideological discussion than in actual work, as when the leaders of the communist movement in Korea don’t live in Korea at all and spend far too much time discussing and debating the “Party line” when fellow activists are being tortured to death.’

Other nominated books by Hwang Sok-yong

At Dusk

Other nominated books by Sora Kim-Russell

At Dusk