Book Review

The Vegetarian (2007)

“It seemed enough for her to just deal with whatever it was that came her way, calmly and without fuss. Or perhaps it was simply that things were happening inside her, terrible things, which no one else could even guess at, and thus it was impossible for her to engage with everyday life at the same time.”

— Hang Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

The Vegetarian tells the story of Yeong-hye, a “completely unremarkable” woman who one day woke up from a violent, terrifying dream and stopped eating meat. It was the beginning of the unravelling of her life, and her family’s.

Interestingly, the story is told by the perspective of her lousy husband, her lustful brother-in-law, and her lonely, tired sister — we never got to hear from Yeong-hye’s perspective directly, save a few accounts of her dream.⁣

The book is a quiet yet violent one, a book that invokes dark imagery and stirs your emotions. The third part that tells the perspective of In-hye, the sister and perhaps most sympathetic character, unfortunately was the most unstable one and it was less enjoyable that the first two parts.

Despite this, it is a gripping, memorable narrative centred on “breaking molds” — both in societal and literary conventions. I have to confess that it took me some additional reading of reviews to actually grasp and appreciate the intricacy and uniqueness of this book, but Han Kang is an impressive author and should definitely be on your reading list.⁣

My rating: 4/5.

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