Captivating, intriguing, and enormously powerful, Han Kang takes us to another world with The Vegetarian, which is originally written in Korean and translated into English. Set in modern-day South Korea, it follows the life of Yeong-hye and the disastrous consequences that come as a result of her decision to stop eating meat.
Dates Read: January 29, 2018 – February 2, 2018
The Vegetarian is a three-part novella, consisting of three parts: “The Vegetarian”, “Mongolian Mark”, and “Flaming Trees.” Each section has a different narrator, which allows the reader to explore Yeong-hye’s journey through the people closest to her. The story is never narrated by Yeong-hye, so we never fully diving into Yeong-hye’s own mind. Along with three different narrators, the narration jumps from first-person to third-person, which left me on the edge of my seat, immersing myself in the novella with every passing page.
Diving deep into topics such as gender and societal roles, mental health, and human violence, The Vegetarian showcases real-life consequences of our actions, and causes the reader to question their own stances and understandings of the world around them. Intertwined with matters of innocence, sanity and madness, and beauty, Kang integrates universal issues into a masterpiece.
Yeong-hye’s initial act and decision to go vegetarian – which is the catalyst for the entire novella – is a metaphor for life choices, going deeper than just the idea of vegetarianism. From there, social isolation results, and throughout the novella, we, as the readers, are able to see and understand the devastating consequences of isolating behaviours. This questions the idea of family, of (romantic) relations, and explores how integral support is to one’s success or failure. Everything in the novella occurs due to an act of rebellion against society and societal norms, which forces us to reflect upon present-day situations and even our own lives – how we live, why we do certain things, and whether or not we’ve ever really done anything out of our own sheer will.
Haunting, captivating, and magnificent, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian will make you think and question your own life. It made me have a mix of emotions: I was confused, enthralled, disgusted, and intrigued all at the same time. Though it looks short, it is not an easy read; filled with haunting imagery, it takes a lot to digest.
The Vegetarian is an absolute work of art, and I recommend that everyone reads it for a better understanding of ourselves and of our own society. I’d like to end this off with a quote that really resonated with me:
“She was no longer able to cope with all that her sister reminded her of. She’d been unable to forgive her for soaring alone over a boundary she herself could never bring herself to cross, unable to forgive that magnificent irresponsibility that had enabled Yeong-hye to shuck off social constraints and leave her behind, still a prisoner. And before Yeong-hye had broken those bars, she’d never even known they were there.”
All the best,
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