My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Vegetarian: A Novel by Han Kang is a powerful book, one that is difficult to put down. I read it based on a Goodreads recommendation, without knowing much about the story. At first, I thought it was about the life of a woman in a conservative society. After that, I thought it was about a victim of mental illness. Then, I thought it was about the reactions of the people around a person suffering from mental illness. In the end I came to the conclusion it is about all those things and more. There are some graphic descriptions of sexual acts that are appropriate for the novel, but very disturbing.
The book is divided in three parts. Although some sections are written from the point of view of the main character, Yeong-hye, for the most part these sections are from the perspective of Yeong-hye's husband, Yeong-hye's brother-in-law, and Yeong-hye's sister. Yeong-hye is the perfect wife, which means she complete's her tasks well and lives a passive life. Her only act of rebellion is found in her resistance to wearing a bra. Then she has a dream, a surreal dream she interprets as a call to become a vegetarian. In American society this doesn't seem like a radical decision, but apparently it is in Korean society. Also, Yeong-hye does not replace the food she's determined to avoid with vegetables that provide necessary nutrition. She becomes emaciated, causing some bizarre and outrageous reactions from the people around her.
The Vegetarian was written in Korean. The language is concise and compelling. Since I read the English version, it's hard to know how much of the text is Han Kang's work and how much is due to Deborah Smith's translation, but the final result is impressive. Here's a selection:
Yells and howls, threaded together layer upon layer, are enmeshed to form that lump. Because of meat. I ate too much meat. The lives of the animals I ate have all lodged there. Blood and flesh, all those butchered bodies are scattered in every nook and cranny, and though the physical remnants were excreted, their lives still stick stubbornly to my insides.
Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul
View all my reviews