Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Paperback Edition
The Vegetarian is written by South Korean writer Han Kang and The Vegetarian is also the winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.

WOW, Wow, wow, The Vegetarian by Han Kang is an impressive novel to read!! 

To be honest, initially I wasn't even sure if I wanted to read The Vegetarian by Han Kang for a couple of reasons... 1. The Vegetarian by Han Kang sounded like it might have been too violent, sad, depressing, and/or surreal/artsy book for me based on reading the plot details and some reviews I'd read online. 2. When a novel like The Vegetarian by Han Kang has won a major literary prize, like the Man Booker International Prize, one sometimes expects great things from a novel, which leads to high expectations that may or may not be met during the course of reading such a novel. 

In the end, I finally decided to read The Vegetarian by Han Kang and I am very glad that I did read this novel! Han Kang's writing is beautiful, rich, vivid, eloquent, and sparse all at the same time. I thought that Deborah Smith did a wonderful job of translating this novel into English.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a difficult novel to summarize in some ways... The back book cover says the following about The Vegetarian: "A beautiful, unsettling novel in three acts, about rebellion and taboos, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soul." 

And it's true this novel is told in three acts. The central character of The Vegetarian is Yeong-hye, a woman, who becomes a vegetarian after having a dream that no one seems to be able to identify with at all. Yeong-hye takes becoming a vegetarian to the extreme and is eventually committed to a psychiatric hospital. We primarily learn about Yeong-hye's life through the way others see her and rarely from Yeong-hye's own point of view. The Vegetarian by Han Kang is told through the point of view of Yeong-hye's husband in act one, the point of view of Yeong-hye's brother-in-law (her sister's husband) in act two, and finally, the last point of view comes from Yeong-hye's older sister, In-hye, in act three. 

In many ways The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a very sad and depressing novel. It deals with mental illness, patriarchy and the rebellion of the traditional patriarchy in society, violence, eroticism, and sex against one's will.

Quite honestly, Yeong-hye's husband is a complete ass. It sounds like he only likes and marries Yeong-hye because she's a docile, typical, woman who won't rock the boat and does everything he wants without question. When she goes down the extreme road of becoming a vegetarian (a vegan really as she won't eat meat or anything that comes from an animal), becomes an insomniac, etc. her husband does nothing to try solving the issue and seems put out by her behavior and how it impacts his life negatively. Eventually, he divorces Yeong-hye and makes the entire issue her family's problem. 

In the second act, Yeong-hye's brother-in-law, an unsuccessful artist, suddenly starts having erotic fantasies about Yeong-hye and essentially takes advantage of her mental instability by having sex with her and filming it with a video camera.

In the third and final act of The Vegetarian, we read In-hye's point of view about her sister, Yeong-hye, which seemed to be the most enlightening section for me and also the most challenging section to read. In fact, I found the last ten pages of this novel to be the most emotionally charged pages to read. In-hye has always been the character who has been portrayed as a pillar of strength. But in the last section she is filled with guilt and anger over her sister's state of mind and how Yeong-hye ended up the way she did. In my opinion, In-hye seems to think that if she could have protected her sister from their father, as well as Yeong-hye's husband, and her own husband, then maybe Yeong-hye would have ended up being okay. By the end of the novel, it also appears that In-hye's mind may be slipping down the same slippery slope as her sister's mind... It seems like In-hye may also be giving up on life too.

My favorite line/quote from The Vegetarian by Han Kang is "Why, is it such a bad thing to die?" from page 157.

The following is a plot summary for The Vegetarian by Han Kang from Amazon:
Before the nightmares began, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary, controlled life. But the dreams—invasive images of blood and brutality—torture her, driving Yeong-hye to purge her mind and renounce eating meat altogether. It’s a small act of independence, but it interrupts her marriage and sets into motion an increasingly grotesque chain of events at home. As her husband, her brother-in-law and sister each fight to reassert their control, Yeong-hye obsessively defends the choice that’s become sacred to her. Soon their attempts turn desperate, subjecting first her mind, and then her body, to ever more intrusive and perverse violations, sending Yeong-hye spiraling into a dangerous, bizarre estrangement, not only from those closest to her, but also from herself.

Celebrated by critics around the world, The Vegetarian is a darkly allegorical, Kafka-esque tale of power, obsession, and one woman’s struggle to break free from the violence both without and within her.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang is my 109th read for 2017. I am giving The Vegetarian by Han Kang a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Until my next post, happy reading!


  1. Wonderful review! I too was concerned about how much I would like the novel but was deeply moved by it. My review is here:

    1. Yes, I was deeply moved by this novel so much so that it had me thinking about it for quite awhile after I finished reading it. This book is one of the most unique books I've read for sure. I am now looking forward to reading 'Human Acts' by Han Kang as well.