Han Kang’s The Vegetarian is an agonizing tale of what happens when women refuse the narrative they’ve been assigned. A parable told in three parts, the novel folds in themes of familial roles and expectations, attitudes toward mental illness, bodily agency, and abuse, with deft and undaunted command. Kang masterfully unpacks mountains of terror from otherwise ordinary moments, until all the small cuts become greater than the sum. I couldn’t look away and I couldn’t put it down.
I am recommending this book with a trigger warning for sexual violence and abuse.
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I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Published by Crown/Archetype on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Fiction, Psychological, Cultural Heritage, Literary
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A beautiful, unsettling novel about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soul 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
The Vegetarian is a quick read—I finished it in two evenings. But I sat on the review for a few days after, chewing on what I’d write. While the prose (in translation) is sparse and the pacing is a good stride, the subject is surprisingly weighty, and I found myself ruminating on the many different layers the book managed to penetrate.