Thursday, February 25, 2016

Book Review: "The Vegetarian" by Han Kang

This short novel, translated from the Korean, centers around Yeong-hye.  Yeong-hye is a young woman who decides to become a vegetarian after a series of dreams.  Her husband, who married her mostly because she seemed so ordinary and complacent, has no idea what to make of this "nonsense".  Neither does her family.  In fact, this one decision by an individual sets off a series of events that has major effects on everyone around her.  But why?

This book is told in three parts, each from a different character's perspective - none of whom is Yeong-hye herself.  The first part is from the husband, the second from the brother-in-law and the third from the sister.   At first, I couldn't believe what a huge deal everyone was making over this woman's choice to be vegetarian, and I think that is a cultural difference for me.  The females in this book are very concerned about being obedient to the men in their lives, and most certainly do not rock the boat.  Except the sister - as she is the money maker in that house and I believe is the only female in the book with a true career and not just supplemental income jobs. Anyway, this vegetarianism starts up some crazy in the family and yet no one actually asks Yeong-hye why?  They get that she had a dream, but no one asks the follow up question, no one tries to understand what this obsession means to her.  So they become obsessed with trying to make her eat meat and get upset that for once in their lives, they cannot control this part of her.

Moving on, it seems that this has awakened a new obsession for the brother-in-law with his art.  Which then, in turn, brings to light feeling and memories in the sister.  Its all connected, but not.  There are strong themes and symbols with animals and nature that are kind of amazing to think about.  The narrative is at times disgusting (do not try to eat and read the first section at the same time), erotic, depressing, and scary.   But the writing is amazing.  I was shocked by the range of reactions I had from different passages.  This really got into my brain, and now I need to go find a light happy book.

The Vegetarian
by Han Kang
Translated by Deborah Smith
Hogarth, 2016.  First published 2007.
192 pages
Source:  Library



Andi said...

SUCH a perfect #weirdathon choice, but having already read it, I'll just say great review! It definitely got to me in (mostly) good ways.

Julianne Outlandish Lit said...

Oh man, great review. You have me even more excited to start this on March 1!! I don't fully know what to expect with how disturbing it's going to be, but that is A-OK haha

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