The Vegetarian by Han Kang | Book Review |

Hey Everyone,

The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Translated by Deborah Smith)


Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more 'plant-like' existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister's husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming - impossibly, ecstatically - a tree.

Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

Published: 2016
Published Edition: October 30th, 2007
Publishers: Portobello Books

Goodreads Star Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


I bought this book because I haven't read Korean Literature before and hearing about this book got me curious to pick it up, just because it is a Korean author but also seeing the perspective of a Korean vegetarian. I know, from watching too many Korean Dramas, is that meat is everywhere and meat is used quite a lot in any food and even in dishes that don't have meat, there is some in the broth or in the powder for making ramen. 

I can understand Han Kang's intention for the audience to understand the POV and within a society where a vegetarian is uncommon in Asia, you cannot sympathise to Yeon-hye. You are trying to understand Yeon-hye while her sister continues to think that she will get better. There are some moments in the book where you are horrified that "some person" did this to Yeon-hye and your kind of shouting "Why did you do that?". 

It's haunting and terrifying to think what Yeon-hye is going through and with the interruptions of her family, makes me even frightened for them. 

I gave the book 3 stars because even though I enjoyed it, it was a book that I honestly knew wasn't for me. I felt that it dragged in some places but it is a good book to read.

Hope you are having a lovely day

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