Originally written and published in Korean, it was translated by a 28-year-old Briton who, by her own admission, was "monolingual until the age of 21," and who only chose to pursue Korean due to a lack of English-Korean translators.
The translation of the source work is a crucial factor in choosing the Man Booker International Prize, which celebrates non-English language books translated and published in the United Kingdom.
The book is a "concise, unsettling and beautifully composed story" judging panel chairman Boyd Tonkin said, and said the tale of a woman's rejection of family and society's traditions is told in a style "both lyrical and lacerating."
According to the Man Booker website, the work can be "written in any language as long as it was widely available in English." This is the first year the prize was awarded on the basis of a single book instead of an author's body of work.
Told in three voices from three perspectives, the novel was selected from 155 titles.
The judging panel recognized translator Deborah Smith for her "perfectly judged translation," saying it mirrored the original prose's "uncanny blend of beauty and horror at every turn."
"This compact, exquisite and disturbing book will linger long in the minds, and maybe the dreams, of its readers," Tonkin said.
The short list for this year's prize was notable for its diversity, with novels from the idyllic mountains of Austria to the hellish conditions of 1950's Chinese labor camps, including Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk's latest work, "A Strangeness in My Mind."
Pamuk, and the Angolan author Jose Eduardo Agualusa, have both previously won the Independent Foreign Fiction prize, the predecessor of the Man Booker International.
Authors as notable as Philip Roth and Chinua Achebe
have previously won the award. Last year's Man Booker International Prize was won by Hungarian author Laszlo Krasznahorkai.
From 2015 onward, the $72,000 (£50,000) prize has been awarded annually, and is divided equally between the author and the translator of the winning entry. The other short-listed entries each receive $1,437 (£1,000).
The prize is a sister prize of the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction
, which is awarded to English-language fiction annually. First awarded in 1969, last year's prize was awarded to Jamaican novelist Marlon James
for "A Brief History of Seven Killings," his fictional retelling of the 1976 attempted murder of Bob Marley.
"The Vegetarian" won out over six shortlisted books: