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Winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • Publisher''s Weekly •  Buzzfeed •  Entertainment Weekly •  Time •  Wall Street Journal •  Bustle •  Elle •  The Economist •  Slate •  The Huffington Post • The St. Louis Dispatch •  Electric Literature

Featured in the New York Times selection of "15 remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century" 

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.

Review

“Surreal...[A] mesmerizing mix of sex and violence...vivid, chiseled...Like a cursed madwoman in classical myth, Yeong-hye seems both eerily prophetic and increasingly unhinged.” — Alexandra Alter, The New York Times

“Ferocious...[Han Kang] has been rightfully celebrated as a visionary in South Korea… Han’s glorious treatments of agency, personal choice, submission and subversion find form in the parable. There is something about short literary forms – this novel is under 200 pages – in which the allegorical and the violent gain special potency from their small packages... Ultimately, though, how could we not go back to Kafka? More than ‘The Metamorphosis,’ Kafka’s journals and ‘A Hunger Artist’ haunt this text.” — Porochista Khakpour, New York Times Book Review

“Astonishing...Kang viscerally explores the limits of what a human brain and body can endure, and the strange beauty that can be found in even the most extreme forms of renunciation.” — Entertainment Weekly

"Sometimes how a book or a film puzzles you—how it may mystify even its own creator—is the main point. The way it keeps slithering out of your grasp. The way it chats with you in the parlor even as it drags something nameless and heavy through the woods out back….That’s the spirit in which to approach  The Vegetarian…  The Vegetarian has an eerie universality that gets under your skin and stays put irrespective of nation or gender.”— Laura Miller, Slate.com

“This book is both terrifying and terrific.”— Lauren Groff

" The Vegetarian was slim and spiky and extremely disturbing, and I find myself thinking about it weeks after I finished." Jennifer Weiner, popsugar.com

The Vegetarian is one of  the best novels I’ve read in years.  It’s incredible, daring, and stunningly moving. I loved it.”— Laura van den Berg

"A short novel of sexuality and madness that deserves its great success.”— Ian McEwan

“If it''s true you are what you read, prepare to be sliced and severed, painted and slapped and fondled and broken to bits, left shocked and reeling on the other side of this stunning, dark star of a book.”— Amelia Gray

“It takes a gifted storyteller to get you feeling ill at ease in your own body. Yet Han Kang often set me squirming with her first novel in English, at once claustrophobic and transcendent… Yeong-hye’s compulsions feel more like a force of nature… A sea like that, rippling with unknowable shadow, looks all but impossible to navigate—but I’d let Han Kang take the helm any time.”— Chicago Tribune

“Provocative...shocking.”— The Washington Post

"[An] utterly deserving winner of this year''s Man Booker International Prize...with haunting, almost hallucinatory beauty."— Entertainment Weekly, Best Books of 2016 so far

“This is a deceptive novel, its canvas much larger than the mild social satire that one initially imagines. Kang has bigger issues to raise… The matter of female autonomy assumes urgency and poignancy.”— The Boston Globe

"Compelling...[A] seamless union of the visceral and the surreal.”— Los Angeles Review of Books

"Indebted to Kafka, this story of a South Korean woman''s radical transformation, which begins after she forsakes meat, will have you reading with your hand over your mouth in shock." — O, the Oprah Magazine

“If you love books that grab you by the throat and keep you wide-eyed and shocked throughout, you’ve got to pick up Han Kang’s  The Vegetarian.”— EW.com

"A complex, terrifying look at how seemingly simple decisions can affect multiple lives...In a world where women’s bodies are constantly under scrutiny, the protagonist’s desire to disappear inside of herself feels scarily familiar."— VanityFair.com

"A sharply written allegory that extends far beyond its surreal premise to unexpected depths.”— The Millions

“Visceral and hypnotic.”— Michele Filgate

“An elegant tale, in three parts, of a woman whose sudden turn to veganism disrupts her family and exposes the worst human appetites and impulses… [a] stripped-down, thoughtful narrative… about human psychology and physiology.”— Huffington Post

"Adventurous readers will be blown away by Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, in which a once-submissive Korean wife’s compulsion to stop eating meat spirals out of control. This moving story engages complicated questions about desire, guilt, obligation and madness.”— MORE Magazine

“This elegant-yet-twisted horror story is all about power and its relationship with identity. It''s chilling in the best ways, so buckle in and turn down the lights.”— Elle.com 

The Vegetarian is the first—there will be more, let’s hope—of Han Kang’s novels to arrive in the United States…The style is realistic and psychological, and denies us the comfort that might be wrung from a fairy tale or a myth of metamorphosis. We all like to read about girls swapping their fish tails for legs or their unwrinkled arms for branches, but—at the risk of stating the obvious—a person cannot become a potted bit of green foodstuff. That Yeong-hye seems not to know this makes her dangerous, and doomed.”— Harper’s Magazine

“This haunting, original tale explores the eros, isolation and outer limits of a gripping metamorphosis that happens in plain sight… Han Kang has written a remarkable novel with universal themes about isolation, obsession, duty and desire.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Complex and strange...Han''s prose moves swiftly, riveted on the scene unfolding in a way that makes this story compulsively readable...this is a book that demands you to ask important questions, and its vivid images will be hard to shake. This is a book that will stay with you."— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Brutally yet beautifully explores the gap between one person’s expression and another’s reception.”— Harvard Crimson

" The Vegetarian is incredibly fresh and gripping, due in large part to the unforgettable narrative structure... Han Kang has created a multi-leveled, well-crafted story that does what all great stories do: immediately connects the unique situation within these pages to the often painful experience of living."— The Rumpus

“Disquieting, thought-provoking and precisely informed.” — Shelf Awareness

“A horror story in its depiction of the unknowability of others—of the sudden feeling that you''ve never actually known someone close to you….Its three-part structure is brilliant, gradually digging deeper and deeper into darker and darker places; the writing is spare and haunting; but perhaps most memorable is its crushing climax, a phantasmagoric yet emotionally true moment that''s surely one of the year''s most powerful. This is an ingenious, upsetting, and unforgettable novel.”— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[A] spare, spectacular novel...Family dysfunction amid cultural suffocation is presented with elegant precision, transforming readers into complicit voyeurs. Fans of authors as diverse as Mary Karr and Haruki Murakami won''t be able to turn away."— Library Journal (starred review)

“Korean writer Han Kang’s elegant yet unsettling prose conveys her protagonist’s brother-in-law’s obsessive, art-centered lust; her sister’s tepid, regret-riddled existence; and Yeong-hye’s vivid, disturbing dreams… Readers will want more of the author’s shocking portrayals of our innermost doubts, beliefs, and longings.”— Booklist

“[A] beautiful and disquieting new novel...concise and swift, its language often almost poetic...haunting.” — Bookpage

"The book insists on a reader’s attention, with an almost hypnotically serene atmosphere interrupted by surreal images and frighteningly recognizable moments of ordinary despair. Han writes convincingly of the disruptive power of longing and the choice to either embrace or deny it, using details that are nearly fantastical in their strangeness to cut to the heart of the very human experience of discovering that one is no longer content with life as it is. An unusual and mesmerizing novel, gracefully written and deeply disturbing."— Kirkus

"Searing...[Yeong-hye''s] extreme efforts to separate herself from her animal appetites reveal the sanity and normality of those closest to her to be mere matchstick houses."— Helen Oyeyemi, author of Boy, Snow, Bird 

"Suffused with a sensibility that evokes the matter-of-fact surrealism of Franz Kafka, featuring a female protagonist as engagingly perverse as Melville’s Bartleby, Han Kang’s slender but robust novel addresses many vital matters—from the politics of gender to the presumptions of the male gaze, the conundrum of free will to the hegemony of meat—with a dark élan that vegetarians and carnivores alike will find hypnotic, erotic, disquieting, and wise.— James Morrow, author of Galápagos Regained

"A strange, painfully tender exploration of the brutality of desire indulged and the fatality of desire ignored, rendered all the more so by Deborah Smith''s exquisite translation."— Eimear McBride, Baileys Women''s Prize-winning author of A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing

"Visceral and terrifying,  The Vegetarian is a startling reminder of the utter unknowability of another''s mind. Nonetheless, reading it, you will feel it in your flesh: the desire for peace, a plea for safety, for escape from your own inevitable mortality. It is artfully plotted yet reads like a fever dream, sweeping and surreal. It will leave you aching."— Sarah Gerard, author of Binary Star

"Like a small seed, Han Kang’s startling and unforgettable debut goes to work quietly, but insistently. Her prose is so balanced, so elegant and assured, you might overlook the depths of this novel’s darkness—do so at your own peril."— Colin Winnette, author of Haints Stay and Coyote 

" The Vegetarian is a story about metamorphosis, rage and the desire for another sort of life. It is written in cool, still, poetic but matter-of-fact short sentences, translated luminously by Deborah Smith, who is obviously a genius."— Deborah Levy, author of The Unloved and Swimming Home

" The Vegetarian is hypnotically strange, sad, beautiful and compelling. I liked it immensely."— Nathan Filer, 2013 Costa First Novel award-winning author of The Shock of the Fall
 
"A stunning and beautifully haunting novel. It seems in places as if the very words on the page are photosynthesising. I loved this graceful, vivid book."— Jess Richards, Costa First Novel Award shortlisted author of Snake Ropes
 
"Poetic and beguiling, and translated with tremendous elegance,  The Vegetarian exhilarates and disturbs."— Chloe Aridjis, author of The Book of Clouds 

“Dark dreams, simmering tensions, chilling violence…This South Korean novel is a feast…It is sensual, provocative and violent, ripe with potent images, startling colors and disturbing questions…Sentence by sentence,  The Vegetarian is an extraordinary experience… [It] will be hard to beat.”— The Guardian

"This is an odd and enthralling novel; its story filled with nihilism but lyricism too, its writing understated even in its most fevered, violent moments. It has a surreal and spellbinding quality, especially in its passage on nature and the physical landscape, so beautiful and so magnificently impervious to the human suffering around it."— Arifa Akbar, The Independent

“This short novel is one of the most startling I have read… Exciting and imaginative…The author reveals how nature, sex and art crash through this polite society…It is the women who are killed for daring to establish their own identity. The narrative makes it clear it is the crushing pressure of Korean etiquette which murders them…[A] disturbing book.” —Julia Pascal, The Independent

"Immediately absorbing...The different perspectives offered are so beautifully distinctive...Every word matters." Sunday Herald

"Shocking...The writing throughout is precise and spare, with not a word wasted. There are no tricks. Han holds the reader in a vice grip... The Vegetarian quickly settles into a dark, menacing brilliance that is similar to the work of the gifted Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa in its devastating study of psychological pain... The Vegetarian is more than a cautionary tale about the brutal treatment of women: it is a meditation on suffering and grief. It is about escape and how a dreamer takes flight. Most of all, it is about the emptiness and rage of discovering there is nothing to be done when all hope and comfort fails....A work of savage beauty and unnerving physicality."— Irish Times

The Vegetarian is a book about the failures of language and the mysteries of the physical. Yet its message should not undermine Han’s achievement as a writer. Like its anti-protagonist, The Vegetarian whispers so clearly, it can be heard across the room, insistently and with devastating, quiet violence.”— Joanna Walsh, The New Statesman

“[A] strange and ethereal fable, rendered stranger still by the cool precision of the prose… What is ultimately most troubling about Yeong-hye’s post-human fantasies is that they appear to be a reasonable alternative to the world of repression and denial in which everyone around her exists.”— Times Literary Supplement

"The Vegetarian is so strange and vivid it left me breathless upon finishing it. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel as mouth-wateringly poetic, or as drenched in hypnotic oddities, taboos and scandal. It seems to have been plucked out of the ether, ready-made to take us all by surprise. Exciting and compelling"— Lee Rourke, New Humanist  

" The Vegetarian combines human violence and the possibility of innocence...[A] frightening beauty of a novel." - British Council Literature

"Uncanny."— The Australian

"Kang belongs to a generation of writers that aim to discover secret drives, ambitions, and miseries behind one''s personal destiny...[ The Vegetarian] deals with violence, sanity, cultural limits, and the value of the human body as the last refuge and private space." - Tiempo Argentino

"[A] bloodcurdlingly beautiful, sinister story."— Linda
 
"The almost perverse seduction of this book originates in the poetry of the images. They are violently erotic and rather nightmarish; the novel is like a room full of large flowers, where the musky odour takes you by the throat."— De groene Amsterdammer
 
"For the fans of Haruki Murakami."— Gazet van Antwerpen (starred review)
 
"Piercing... I was touched the most by the directness, the images, the poignant phrases and most of all the imagination with which it was written."— nrc Handelsblad
 
"A shocking, moving and thought-provoking novel."— Trouw
 
"Outright impressive."— HUMO
 
"One of the most impressive novels I have read recently... You need to read this book."— Arnon Grunberg in De Volkskrant
 
" The Vegetarian is exciting and original."— De Standaard der Letteren (starred review)
 

About the Author

Han Kang was born in 1970 in South Korea. In 1993 she made her literary debut as a poet, and was first published as novelist in 1994. A participant of the Iowa Writers'' Workshop, Han has won the Man Booker International Prize, the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today''s Young Artist Award, and the Manhae Literary Prize. She currently works as a professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.

www.writerhankang.com

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2015 Han Kang

1

The Vegetarian

Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way. To be frank, the first time I met her I wasn’t even attracted to her. Middling height; bobbed hair neither long nor short; jaundiced, sickly-looking skin; somewhat prominent cheekbones; her timid, sallow aspect told me all I needed to know. As she came up to the table where I was waiting, I couldn’t help but notice her shoes – the plainest black shoes imaginable. And that walk of hers – neither fast nor slow, striding nor mincing.

However, if there wasn’t any special attraction, nor did any particular drawbacks present themselves, and therefore there was no reason for the two of us not to get married. The passive personality of this woman in whom I could detect neither freshness nor charm, or anything especially refined, suited me down to the ground. There was no need to affect intellectual leanings in order to win her over, or to worry that she might be comparing me to the preening men who pose in fashion catalogues, and she didn’t get worked up if I happened to be late for one of our meetings. The paunch that started appearing in my mid-twenties, my skinny legs and forearms that steadfastly refused to bulk up in spite of my best efforts, the inferiority complex I used to have about the size of my penis – I could rest assured that I wouldn’t have to fret about such things on her account.

I’ve always inclined towards the middle course in life. At school I chose to boss around those who were two or three years my junior, and with whom I could act the ringleader, rather than take my chances with those my own age, and later I chose which college to apply to based on my chances of obtaining a scholarship large enough for my needs. Ultimately, I settled for a job where I would be provided with a decent monthly salary in return for diligently carrying out my allotted tasks, at a company whose small size meant they would value my unremarkable skills. And so it was only natural that I would marry the most run-of-the-mill woman in the world. As for women who were pretty, intelligent, strikingly sensual, the daughters of rich families – they would only ever have served to disrupt my carefully ordered existence.

In keeping with my expectations, she made for a completely ordinary wife who went about things without any distasteful frivolousness. Every morning she got up at six a.m. to prepare rice and soup, and usually a bit of fish. From adolescence she’d contributed to her family’s income through the odd bit of part-time work. She ended up with a job as an assistant instructor at the computer graphics college she’d attended for a year, and was subcontracted by a manhwa publisher to work on the words for their speech bubbles, which she could do from home.

She was a woman of few words. It was rare for her to demand anything of me, and however late I was in getting home she never took it upon herself to kick up a fuss. Even when our days off happened to coincide, it wouldn’t occur to her to suggest we go out somewhere together. While I idled the afternoon away, TV remote in hand, she would shut herself up in her room. More than likely she would spend the time reading, which was practically her only hobby. For some unfathomable reason, reading was something she was able to really immerse herself in – reading books that looked so dull I couldn’t even bring myself to so much as take a look inside the covers. Only at mealtimes would she open the door and silently emerge to prepare the food. To be sure, that kind of wife, and that kind of lifestyle, did mean that I was unlikely to find my days particularly stimulating. On the other hand, if I’d had one of those wives whose phones ring on and off all day long with calls from friends or co-workers, or whose nagging periodically leads to screaming rows with their husbands, I would have been grateful when she finally wore herself out.

The only respect in which my wife was at all unusual was that she didn’t like wearing a bra. When I was a young man barely out of adolescence, and my wife and I were dating, I happened to put my hand on her back only to find that I couldn’t feel a bra strap under her sweater, and when I realized what this meant I became quite aroused. In order to judge whether she might possibly have been trying to tell me something, I spent a minute or two looking at her through new eyes, studying her attitude. The outcome of my studies was that she wasn’t, in fact, trying to send any kind of signal. So if not, was it laziness, or just a sheer lack of concern? I couldn’t get my head round it. It wasn’t even as though she had shapely breasts which might suit the ‘no-bra look’. I would have preferred her to go around wearing one that was thickly padded, so that I could save face in front of my acquaintances.

Even in the summer, when I managed to persuade her to wear one for a while, she’d have it unhooked barely a minute after leaving the house. The undone hook would be clearly visible under her thin, light-coloured tops, but she wasn’t remotely concerned. I tried reproaching her, lecturing her to layer up with a vest instead of a bra in that sultry heat. She tried to justify herself by saying that she couldn’t stand wearing a bra because of the way it squeezed her breasts, and that I’d never worn one myself so I couldn’t understand how constricting it felt. Nevertheless, considering I knew for a fact that there were plenty of other women who, unlike her, didn’t have anything particularly against bras, I began to have doubts about this hypersensitivity of hers.

In all other respects, the course of our our married life ran smoothly. We were approaching the five-year mark, and since we were never madly in love to begin with we were able to avoid falling into that stage of weariness and boredom that can otherwise turn married life into a trial. The only thing was, because we’d decided to put off trying for children until we’d managed to secure a place of our own, which had only happened last autumn, I sometimes wondered whether I would ever get to hear the reassuring sound of a child gurgling ‘dada’, and meaning me. Until a certain day last February, when I came across my wife standing in the kitchen at day-break in just her nightclothes, I had never considered the possibility that our life together might undergo such an appalling change.

 

‘What are you doing standing there?’

I’d been about to switch on the bathroom light when I was brought up short. It was around four in the morning, and I’d woken up with a raging thirst from the bottle and a half of soju I’d had with dinner, which also meant I was taking longer to come to my senses than usual.

‘Hello? I asked what you’re doing?’

It was cold enough as it was, but the sight of my wife was even more chilling. Any lingering alcohol-induced drowsiness swiftly passed. She was standing, motionless, in front of the fridge. Her face was submerged in the darkness so I couldn’t make out her expression, but the potential options all filled me with fear. Her thick, naturally black hair was fluffed up, dishevelled, and she was wearing her usual white ankle-length nightdress.

On such a night, my wife would ordinarily have hurriedly slipped on a cardigan and searched for her towelling slippers. How long might she have been standing there like that – barefoot, in thin summer nightwear, ramrod straight as though perfectly oblivious to my repeated interrogation? Her face was turned away from me, and she was standing there so unnaturally still it was almost as if she were some kind of ghost, silently standing its ground.

What was going on? If she couldn’t hear me then perhaps that meant she was sleepwalking.

I went towards her, craning my neck to try and get a look at her face.

‘Why are you standing there like that? What’s going on . . .’

When I put my hand on her shoulder I was surprised by her complete lack of reaction. I had no doubt that I was in my right mind and all this was really happening; I had been fully conscious of everything I had done since emerging from the living room, asking her what she was doing, and moving towards her. She was the one standing there completely unresponsive, as though lost in her own world. It was like those rare occasions when, absorbed in a late-night TV drama, she’d failed to notice me arriving home. But what could there be to absorb her attention in the pale gleam of the fridge’s white door, in the pitch-black kitchen at four in the morning?

‘Hey!’

Her profile swam towards me out of the darkness. I took in her eyes, bright but not feverish, as her lips slowly parted.

‘. . . I had a dream.’

Her voice was surprisingly clear.

‘A dream? What the hell are you talking about? Do you know what time it is?’

She turned so that her body was facing me, then slowly walked off through the open door into the living room. As she entered the room she stretched out her foot and calmly pushed the door to. I was left alone in the dark kitchen, looking helplessly on as her retreating figure was swallowed up through the door.

I turned on the bathroom light and went in. The cold snap had continued for several days now, consistently hovering around -10°C. I’d showered only a few hours ago, so my plastic shower slippers were still cold and damp. The loneliness of this cruel season began to make itself felt, seeping from the black opening of the ventilation fan above the bath, leaching out of the white tiles covering the floor and walls.

When I went back into the living room my wife was lying down, her legs curled up to her chest, the silence so weighted I might as well have been alone in the room. Of course, this was just my fancy. If I stood perfectly still, held my breath and strained to listen, I was able to hear the faintest sound of breathing coming from where she lay. Yet it didn’t sound like the deep, regular breathing of someone who has fallen asleep. I could have reached out to her, and my hand would have encountered her warm skin. But for some reason I found myself unable to touch her. I didn’t even want to reach out to her with words.

 

For the few moments immediately after I opened my eyes the next morning, when reality had yet to assume its usual concreteness, I lay with the quilt wrapped about me, absent-mindedly assessing the quality of the winter sunshine as it filtered into the room through the white curtain. In the middle of this fit of abstraction I happened to glance at the wall clock and jumped up the instant I saw the time, kicked the door open and hurried out of the room. My wife was in front of the fridge.

‘Are you crazy? Why didn’t you wake me up? What time is . . .’

Something squashed under my foot, stopping me in mid-sentence. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

She was crouching, still wearing her nightclothes, her dishevelled, tangled hair a shapeless mass around her face. Around her, the kitchen floor was covered with plastic bags and airtight containers, scattered all over so that there was nowhere I could put my feet without treading on them. Beef for shabu-shabu, belly pork, two sides of black beef shin, some squid in a vacuum-packed bag, sliced eel that my mother-in-law had sent us from the countryside ages ago, dried croaker tied with yellow string, unopened packs of frozen dumplings and endless bundles of unidentified stuff dragged from the depths of the fridge. There was a rustling sound; my wife was busy putting the things around her one by one into black rubbish bags. Eventually I lost control.

‘What the hell are you up to now?’ I shouted.

She kept on putting the parcels of meat into the rubbish bags, seemingly no more aware of my existence than she had been last night. Beef and pork, pieces of chicken, at least 200,000-won worth of saltwater eel.

‘Have you lost your mind? Why on earth are you throwing all this stuff out?’

I hurriedly stumbled my way through the plastic bags and grabbed her wrist, trying to prise the bags from her grip. Stunned to find her fiercely tugging back against me, I almost faltered for a moment, but my outrage soon gave me the strength to overpower her. Massaging her reddened wrist, she spoke in the same ordinary, calm tone of voice she’d used before.

‘I had a dream.’

Those words again. Her expression as she looked at me was perfectly composed. Just then my mobile rang.

‘Damn it!’

I started to fumble through the pockets of my coat, which I’d tossed onto the living room sofa the previous evening. Finally, in the last inside pocket, my fingers closed around my recalcitrant phone.

‘I’m sorry. Something’s come up, an urgent family matter, so . . . I’m very sorry. I’ll be there as quickly as possible. No, I’m going to leave right now. It’s just . . . no, I couldn’t possibly have you do that. Please wait just a little longer. I’m very sorry. Yes, I really can’t talk right now . . .’

I flipped my phone shut and dashed into the bathroom, where I shaved so hurriedly that I cut myself in two places.

‘Haven’t you even ironed my white shirt?’

There was no answer. I splashed water on myself and rummaged in the laundry basket, searching for yesterday’s shirt. Luckily it wasn’t too creased. Not once did my wife bother to peer out from the kitchen in the time it took me to get ready, slinging my tie round my neck like a scarf, pulling on my socks, and getting my notebook and wallet together. In the five years we’d been married this was the first time I’d had to go to work without her handing me my things and seeing me off.

‘You’re insane! You’ve completely lost it.’

I crammed my feet into my recently purchased shoes, which were too narrow and pinched uncomfortably, threw open the front door and ran out. I checked whether the lift was going to go all the way up to the top floor, and then dashed down three flights of stairs. Only once I’d managed to jump on the underground train as it was just about to leave did I have time to take in my appearance, reflected in the dark carriage window. I ran my fingers through my hair, did up my tie, and attempted to smooth out the creases in my shirt. My wife’s unnaturally serene face, her incongruously firm voice, surfaced in my mind.

I had a dream – she’d said that twice now. Beyond the window, in the dark tunnel, her face flitted by – her face, but unfamiliar, as though I was seeing it for the first time. However, as I had thirty minutes in which to concoct an excuse for my client that would justify my lateness, as well as putting together a draft proposal for today’s meeting, there was no time for mulling over the strange behaviour of my even-stranger wife. Having said that, I told myself that somehow or other I had to leave the office early today (never mind that in the several months since I’d switched to my new position there hadn’t been a single day where I’d got off before midnight), and steeled myself for a confrontation.

 

Dark woods. No people. The sharp-pointed leaves on the trees, my torn feet. This place, almost remembered, but I’m lost now. Frightened. Cold. Across the frozen ravine, a red barn-like building. Straw matting flapping limp across the door. Roll it up and I’m inside, it’s inside. A long bamboo stick strung with great blood-red gashes of meat, blood still dripping down. Try to push past but the meat, there’s no end to the meat, and no exit. Blood in my mouth, blood-soaked clothes sucked onto my skin.

Somehow a way out. Running, running through the valley, then suddenly the woods open out. Trees thick with leaves, springtime’s green light. Families picnicking, little children running about, and that smell, that delicious smell. Almost painfully vivid. The babbling stream, people spreading out rush mats to sit on, snacking on kimbap. Barbecuing meat, the sounds of singing and happy laughter.

But the fear. My clothes still wet with blood. Hide, hide behind the trees. Crouch down, don’t let anybody see. My bloody hands. My bloody mouth. In that barn, what had I done? Pushed that red raw mass into my mouth, felt it squish against my gums, the roof of my mouth, slick with crimson blood.

Chewing on something that felt so real, but couldn’t have been, it couldn’t. My face, the look in my eyes . . . my face, undoubtedly, but never seen before. Or no, not mine, but so familiar. . . nothing makes sense. Familiar and yet not . . . that vivid, strange, horribly uncanny feeling.

 

On the dining table my wife had laid out lettuce and soybean paste, plain seaweed soup without the usual beef or clams, and kimchi.

‘What the hell? So all because of some ridiculous dream, you’ve gone and chucked out all the meat? Worth how much?’

I got up from my chair and opened the freezer. It was practically empty – nothing but miso powder, chilli powder, frozen fresh chillies, and a pack of minced garlic.

‘Just make me some fried eggs. I’m really tired today. I didn’t even get to have a proper lunch.’

‘I threw the eggs out as well.’

What?

‘And I’ve given up milk too.’

‘This is unbelievable. You’re telling me not to eat meat?’

‘I couldn’t let those things stay in the fridge. It wouldn’t be right.’

How on earth could she be so self-centred? I stared at her lowered eyes, her expression of cool self-possession. The very idea that there should be this other side to her, one where she selfishly did as she pleased, was astonishing. Who would have thought she could be so unreasonable?

‘So you’re saying that from now on, there’ll be no meat in this house?’

‘Well, after all, you usually only eat breakfast at home. And I suppose you often have meat with your lunch and dinner, so . . . it’s not as if you’ll die if you go without meat just for one meal.’

Her reply was so methodical, it was as if she thought that this ridiculous decision of hers was something completely rational and appropriate.

‘Oh good, so that’s me sorted then. And what about you? You’re claiming that you’re not going to eat meat at all from now on?’ She nodded. ‘Oh, really? Until when?

‘I suppose . . . forever.’

I was lost for words, though at the same time I was aware that choosing a vegetarian diet wasn’t quite so rare as it had been in the past. People turn vegetarian for all sorts of reasons: to try and alter their genetic predisposition towards certain allergies, for example, or else because it’s seen as more environmentally friendly not to eat meat. Of course, Buddhist priests who have taken certain vows are morally obliged not to participate in the destruction of life, but surely not even impressionable young girls take it quite that far. As far as I was concerned, the only reasonable grounds for altering one’s eating habits were the desire to lose weight, an attempt to alleviate certain physical ailments, being possessed by an evil spirit, or having your sleep disturbed by indigestion. In any other case, it was nothing but sheer obstinacy for a wife to go against her husband’s wishes as mine had done.

If you’d said that my wife had always been faintly nauseated by meat, then I could have understood it, but in reality it was quite the opposite – ever since we’d got married she had proved herself a more than competent cook, and I’d always been impressed by her way with food. Tongs in one hand and a large pair of scissors in the other, she’d flipped rib meat in a sizzling pan whilst snipping it into bite-sized pieces, her movements deft and practised. Her fragrant, caramelised deep-fried belly pork was achieved by marinating the meat in minced ginger and glutinous starch syrup. Her signature dish had been wafer-thin slices of beef seasoned with black pepper and sesame oil, then coated with sticky rice powder as generously as you would with rice cakes or pancakes, and dipped in bubbling shabu-shabu broth. She’d made bibimbap with bean sprouts, minced beef, and pre-soaked rice stir-fried in sesame oil. There had also been a thick chicken and duck soup with large chunks of potato, and a spicy broth packed full of tender clams and mussels, of which I could happily polish off three helpings in a single sitting.

What I was presented with now was a sorry excuse for a meal. Her chair pulled back at an angle, my wife spooned up some seaweed soup, which was quite clearly going to taste of water and nothing else. She balanced rice and soybean paste on a lettuce leaf, then bundled the wrap into her mouth and chewed it slowly.

I just couldn’t understand her. Only then did I realize: I really didn’t have a clue when it came to this woman.

‘Not eating?’ she asked absent-mindedly, for all the world like some middle-aged woman addressing her grown-up son. I sat in silence, steadfastly uninterested in this poor excuse for a meal, crunching on kimchi for what felt like an age.

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PlantBirdWoman
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Vegetarian by Han Kang: A review
Reviewed in the United States on May 6, 2017
What a strange little book. I tried to think of something in my reading experience with which to compare it and the only thing that came to mind was Kafka''s The Metamorphosis, but instead of waking up to find herself transformed into a giant insect, Yeong-hye awoke one... See more
What a strange little book. I tried to think of something in my reading experience with which to compare it and the only thing that came to mind was Kafka''s The Metamorphosis, but instead of waking up to find herself transformed into a giant insect, Yeong-hye awoke one morning from a troubled dream of blood and gore and cruelty and decides to give up the eating of all flesh; to become a vegetarian. For her avidly meat-eating family, a metamorphosis into a giant cockroach might have been preferable. They are appalled and outraged.

At a family gathering some time after she makes her decision, they try to force her to eat meat. Her brutal father slaps her twice and forces a piece of meat between her lips, but Yeong-hye manages to spit it out and then grabs a knife and slits her wrist. As her blood spurts out, the only one who comes to her aid is her brother-in-law, while her parents, her husband, sister, brother, and sister-in-law look on. What is wrong with these people? Well, a lot, apparently.

We learn about it all from three different sources: the odious husband, the brother-in-law, and, finally, the sister.

The husband''s tale starts with his description of his impressions on meeting the woman who was to become his wife. To say his was underwhelmed would be an understatement. To be fair, his description of himself is just as unflattering. I laughed out loud at the husband''s sardonic depictions of the two of them, but it was the only time in the book that I felt any inclination toward jocularity.

As his wife of five years makes her decision to become a vegetarian, all the husband can think about is how this affects him and what his employer and their acquaintances will think. He is totally self-absorbed.

The brother-in-law becomes obsessed with Yeong-hye after the incident at the family gathering. He is an artist. His medium is videos and he becomes consumed by the idea of featuring his sister-in-law''s naked body in his videos. He wants to paint flowers on her body and film her. She agrees to this. His fixation then moves on to filming her having sex. He persuades a fellow artist to allow him to paint flowers on his body and to be Yeong-hye''s partner, but when it comes to the point of actually engaging in sex, the partner backs out. The brother-in-law then takes over - which is what he wanted to do all along - and videotapes himself having sex with her. The sister discovers them together.

The last section of the book is the sister''s tale and there we learn some of Yeong-hye''s back story. We learn, for example, that she was an abused child. She was the middle child with her older sister and younger brother, and her father took out his rage on her. Her sister feels guilty that she did not do more to protect her or support her.

Through the sister''s eyes, we see Yeong-hye descending from a healthy vegetarianism into anorexia. She goes from refusing to eat meat to, finally, refusing to eat, period. She is diagnosed with a mental illness and hospitalized. Her husband divorces her. Her parents and brother abandon her. The only one who stands by her in the end is her sister.

Yeong-hye is slowly starving herself to death, even as her sister tries to pull her back and persuade her to eat. She dreams of transforming herself into a tree. Finally, she asks her sister who is trying to persuade her to live, "Why, is it such a bad thing to die?"

In Korean society, where societal mores are expected to be strictly obeyed, her decision to become a vegetarian and live a more plant-based life is seen as an act of subversion. This disturbing novel should evidently be read as an allegory about modern life in Korea, and about obsession and the choices we make, as well as our stumbling attempts to try to understand each other. This is an impressive bit of story-telling by a very talented writer.

Just a note also about the translator: I read this book in English and it was a thoroughly lithe and graceful translation. The translator was Deborah Smith and she, too, is an artist.
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ANON.
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Ummm...
Reviewed in the United States on April 24, 2017
I''m not sure what this book was about or what point exactly was trying to be made. Social commentary on women''s positions in the world? Mental illness? Vegetarianism? Anorexia? Abuse? There are 3 parts. None directly from the actual woman the story is about. The points of... See more
I''m not sure what this book was about or what point exactly was trying to be made. Social commentary on women''s positions in the world? Mental illness? Vegetarianism? Anorexia? Abuse? There are 3 parts. None directly from the actual woman the story is about. The points of view are from her husband, her brother in law, and her sister. To try not to be too spoiler-y the woman has a dream that reminds her of a childhood trauma connected to her father, she decides to quit eating meat. No one in her family takes it very well. Her husband seems mortified by her-and was never particularly warm towards her to begin with; but she filled the wifely role fine-up until her strangeness began with the vegetarianism. Something happens, her family decides she''s mentally ill. Part 2 the brother in law becomes weirdly obsessed with the idea of her. They get caught in a compromising situation-very weird. Part 3 her sister has her living in an institution. She''s on the verge of death. She''d either been crazy before or the lack of nutrition has affected her brain. And there''s a big hullabaloo and then the book ends. I was like, what? So it''s one of those profound open ended stories...sometimes those are ok. I didn''t like it this time.
37 people found this helpful
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Trinspan
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
It''s not just about food
Reviewed in the United States on May 18, 2016
I thought I knew what this book was about. I saw a review video and instantly wanted to read it and so I did. This book leaves you with an undecided feeling of whether to like it or not. The story is told from 3 points of view, husband, brother-in-law and sister.... See more
I thought I knew what this book was about. I saw a review video and instantly wanted to read it and so I did. This book leaves you with an undecided feeling of whether to like it or not.

The story is told from 3 points of view, husband, brother-in-law and sister. Their focus is Yeong-hye, a woman who one has a bad dream and decides from that day forward she will no longer eat meat or wear anything animal related. This is not just about food, it''s about culture, male domination, abuse, freedom and so much more. It''s about a woman who finally must fight the evils of those surrounding her, in order to be heard, to become her own person, move forward from her past and it''s not an easy process by any means.

There are disturbing acts in this book, you may like me, dislike the characters, in particular Yeong-hye''s selfish, uncaring husband and her brother-in-law who takes advantage of her instability. This is not a book you can read once. It''s definitely something that will need to be read multiple times to complete understand everything.

Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would I recommend it? Yes, but only for those who can read this with an open mind. This is a translated work so sometimes the story was a little off but while it''s a short book, you need to take your time with it.
27 people found this helpful
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M. C. Buell
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Beautiful and Brutal
Reviewed in the United States on December 11, 2020
The Vegetarian starts out with its central character, Yeong-hye, making the seemingly low stakes decision to stop eating meat, but that decision will have an enormous impact on her life, and the lives of those close to her. You see, in giving up meat Yeong-hye has seized a... See more
The Vegetarian starts out with its central character, Yeong-hye, making the seemingly low stakes decision to stop eating meat, but that decision will have an enormous impact on her life, and the lives of those close to her. You see, in giving up meat Yeong-hye has seized a small measure of control over her own life, provoking an immediate reaction in those around her to force her back into line. But Yeong-hye will not back down from her choice, and so becomes an object of fear, disgust, anger, and even lust. The story is well served by Han Kang’s precise, powerful prose, which is equally adept at showcasing both great beauty and stunning brutality. A short but intense book exploring the themes of control and societal violence, I feel like The Vegetarian will stay with me for a long time.
4 people found this helpful
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SassyPants
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
This book will evoke mixed feelings.
Reviewed in the United States on March 21, 2019
In skimming through the reviews for this book, there seems to be a lot of ambivalence among readers. A fair number just plain dislike this book. I found it to be a very compelling and interesting read. I agree with other readers that it is difficult to pin down the... See more
In skimming through the reviews for this book, there seems to be a lot of ambivalence among readers. A fair number just plain dislike this book. I found it to be a very compelling and interesting read. I agree with other readers that it is difficult to pin down the author''s point. Perhaps it was her goal to leave the story open to multiple layers of interpretation. That does not bother me. I also think that this is the type of book that you can read several times at different points in your life and gain a new perspective each time. Some describe this book as an allegory. I have also read that it is based on the Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo. The very short version is that Apollo pursues Daphne but she has no romantic interest in him. As he is about to catch her, Daphne asks for her father to intervene and he turns her into a tree. The book does have a lot of nature symbolism and the tree plays a prominent role toward the end. I think it is a bit of a stretch.

The Vegetarian is told from three different perspectives, none of which is from the main character Yeong-hye. Yeong-hye has a vivid and disturbing dream that causes her to become a vegetarian. The story is narrated by her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister. Through them, we learn a bit about Yeong-hye but really never get to know her. Her husband marries her because she is bland in every way and he assumes she will not cause any problems in his life. Her brother-in-law lusts after her and she compliantly agrees to be his artistic muse. Her sister feels responsible for her and wonders if she did enough to protect her baby sister. In the first section, narrated by the husband, we read about her family''s strongly negative reaction to her vegetarianism. They guilt her and try to force her to eat meat. Her father is physically abusive to her, as he has been all of their lives. Yeong-hye tries to kill herself during this family "intervention" and is hospitalized. Her husband leaves her and she slowly starves herself as a way to overcome her nightmares. She is institutionalized again and is near death. The novel ends rather abruptly with an uncertain outcome.

I really enjoyed this book and thought the writing was pitch-perfect for the story. The author has a very vivid imagination. I gave this four stars because I do have questions about what this novel was really about. To me, the major themes were family violence, mental illness and how people react to that, and abuses of power and patriarchy. The most striking aspect of this novel is the lengths that Yeong-hye will go to in order to claim herself and her power over her own body.
3 people found this helpful
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Zachary Littrell
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A dark Korean fable about social conventions and going nuts
Reviewed in the United States on September 20, 2017
My mom has been a vegetarian since she was 13. I considered maybe she''d want to read this, too. Hoho, no. This is a modern day dark Korean fable with a strong emphasis on eroticism and blood. Yeong-hye decides one day to be a vegetarian, and the world around her... See more
My mom has been a vegetarian since she was 13. I considered maybe she''d want to read this, too. Hoho, no.

This is a modern day dark Korean fable with a strong emphasis on eroticism and blood. Yeong-hye decides one day to be a vegetarian, and the world around her convulses at her decision. And it is this decision that takes her down a path of blood, sex, and insanity. Ostracism and the consequences of bucking social mores haunts each character, making the world seem like a chaotic mess. It was a very quick and addicting read, but at no point was it an uplifting one.

Kang is indiscriminate when weaving thoughts, actions, past, and present; this narrative confusion comes to a head in the final section when Yeong-hye''s sister analyzes both of their respective transformations. There is much left over to chew on at the end of The Vegetarian -- obstinate in giving any sort of genuine closure -- and some of its weirdness just turns me off (build ups without climaxes feel like a waste of the cost of admission), but I''d happily continue to think about it. If, for nothing else, Kang''s image of a nude woman painted with flowers is a lasting one.

P.S. I have a phobia of needles, and this story was not helpful at all.
8 people found this helpful
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Rissa
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Dives deep into the darkeness
Reviewed in the United States on March 26, 2017
As a 20+year vegan, this book is a dark look into what families can do when someone goes against the "norm." I was shocked by the brutality, lying and general depravity shown in this well-done novel, but sadly, it was not entirely outside the realm of expectations.... See more
As a 20+year vegan, this book is a dark look into what families can do when someone goes against the "norm." I was shocked by the brutality, lying and general depravity shown in this well-done novel, but sadly, it was not entirely outside the realm of expectations. The writing is EXCELLENT and the characters are clear and elegantly sketched by Kang. This is not an easy book to read, despite it''s slim size. I loved it though and if you''re on the fence, decide how much humanity you can handle. This one goes deep.
17 people found this helpful
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avid reader
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Provocative read
Reviewed in the United States on November 2, 2016
I don''t know that I liked this book, but I found it very interesting and it stimulated a lot of good conversation in our book club. The themes of violence against any "other" were very thought provoking. It left me wondering about how we as a society define who is... See more
I don''t know that I liked this book, but I found it very interesting and it stimulated a lot of good conversation in our book club. The themes of violence against any "other" were very thought provoking. It left me wondering about how we as a society define who is "crazy" and who is not, about how we can be considered to commit an act of control or violence against another when we do almost anything that imposes our will, even a gesture of kindness, and about the question of the right to determine for oneself when one wants to die.
6 people found this helpful
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Top reviews from other countries

otrops
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Haunting and exquisite
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 7, 2017
This was a difficult read, but I don''t for a moment regret having read it. There is so much going on in this book, so much that is unsaid, so much that is left for the reader to decide. It is a book about men and women—men using women to further their own goals. It is a...See more
This was a difficult read, but I don''t for a moment regret having read it. There is so much going on in this book, so much that is unsaid, so much that is left for the reader to decide. It is a book about men and women—men using women to further their own goals. It is a book about families breaking apart and coming together. It is a book about human connection and the lack thereof. It is a book about mental health, about a descent into madness. There is a dreamlike quality to it, but the language is precise and objective (often reminding me of Hilary Mantel or Angel Carter). As one of the characters seems to lose her grip on reality, readers find themselves more and more grounded in reality. Strangely, this is unsettling rather than reassuring. The Vegetarian is beautiful and sad, exquisite and gut-wrenching, terrifying and ultimately redemptive. It is one of those books that will come back to me in those strange moments when images from books I''ve weave themselves into the threads of my wandering thoughts.
24 people found this helpful
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Laura Hartley
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Disturbing & Beautiful
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 14, 2017
Having flirted with the idea of turning towards a vegetarian diet for quite some time now, I was instantly drawn to The Vegetarian. When I was 17, I decided to give up meat for lent, to prove to a friend that I could and would survive for forty days without meat. However,...See more
Having flirted with the idea of turning towards a vegetarian diet for quite some time now, I was instantly drawn to The Vegetarian. When I was 17, I decided to give up meat for lent, to prove to a friend that I could and would survive for forty days without meat. However, when I got home from school and announced this news to my mother (Chinese), she was horrified. Although the vegetarian movement has grown enormously in the West, it is not wholly accepted in East Asia. This is partly what Han Kang explores in her phenomenal piece, The Vegetarian. Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye''s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether. First of all, I have to admit that at first I just didn''t get this book. It was disturbing enough that I kept reading but it wasn''t what I was expecting at all and when I put the book down I was very confused. It wasn''t until after I had done a bit of research and read about what Han Kang was trying to get at that I really began to appreciate all the themes in this story. You''re not supposed to understand everything that happens here and if you go looking for a "right" answer to everything then you''ve missed the point entirely. Told from three different perspectives, we see Yeong-hye descend into a sort of quiet madness through the eyes of her husband, her best friend and said friend''s husband. Each chapter is very distinct and we get a glimpse at the inner workings of this family that once seemed "normal" from the outside. Kang shows us how our inner demons can haunt us and what happens when they finally break loose. There''s conflict between father and daughter, husband and wife, sister and sister. Through these relationships and conflicts we are given a glimpse into Korean culture. Of course, this book is not representative of all Korean culture (I would be pretty worried if it did), but it certainly makes you aware of some of the stark cultural differences between the East and the West. Being half Chinese myself, I can imagine that turning vegetarian could actually have such a huge impact on your family. The plot seems a little surreal at times and the writing can be rather abstract. The imagery is disturbing and yet beautiful all at once. Kang weaves together these two notions, completely captivating the reader and compelling you to read on even though alarm bells are ringing at the back of your brain. Reading The Vegetarian almost brings you into a trance-like state, much like the leading character herself, Yeong-hye. Finally, I must say that The Vegetarian isn''t for the faint hearted or the squeamish. Whilst I wouldn''t go quite so far as to say there are "gory" parts, there were a couple of passages that made my stomach squirm. Make no mistake, this story isn''t the happy story of how a woman moved towards a plant based diet - it is dark, it is disturbing, it is distressing. Kang''s description of the protagonist through the eyes of her narrators is frighteningly compelling and it''s certainly not a book I''ll be forgetting anytime soon.
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P. G. Harris
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Disturbing and gripping
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 20, 2017
It would be wrong to say that I liked the Vegetarian. Liked is not a word which sits comfortably with it. It is not a pleasant book. It is a deeply disturbing, horrific, tragic, shocking book. It is however beautifully written and translated, giving the prose a poetic,...See more
It would be wrong to say that I liked the Vegetarian. Liked is not a word which sits comfortably with it. It is not a pleasant book. It is a deeply disturbing, horrific, tragic, shocking book. It is however beautifully written and translated, giving the prose a poetic, lyrical, almost dream like quality. It is split into three parts. In the first a Korean business man tells of his wife becoming a vegetarian. He is a man without empathy for his wife in a marriage of convenience. That is all she is to him, his wife, and his only concern as she spirals towards anorexia is that she is no longer fulfilling the role of being his wife in his professional life. The second section is written in the third person, from the viewpoint of a rich, spoilt artist who never grew up and who is obsessed by his sister in law, or more specifically, her birth mark. He is desperate to paint on her naked body. The sister in law onto whom he is literally projecting his desires is the wife of the first section, who along the way we have learned is called Yeong-hye. In the final section, again told in the third person, the artist''s ex-wife, In-hye, visits her sister in a mental institution, where she is deep within a form of anorexia, and reflects on her own life in the mirror of Yeong-hye. The vegetarian is about a lot of things, it is about the place of and expectations placed on women in a male dominated society. It is about the roles demanded of women by that society. It is a book which is both extremely direct in its imagery, the artist painting on the canvas of Yeong-hye''s body, and extremely obscure. I still don''t think I''ve fully grasped everything that author Han Kang is saying. I started by saying that this isn''t a pleasant book,but it is utterly gripping, fiercely intelligent, deeply challenging, and highly rewarding.
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E. J. Carter-Dunn
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
This book is like Marmite
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 16, 2016
I was determined to read one of the Man Booker Prize shortlisted books this year and I took my time choosing which one to read. I''m glad I chose this one. This book is odd. I can''t skirt around that issue. You will either love this book or you will detest it; and I can see...See more
I was determined to read one of the Man Booker Prize shortlisted books this year and I took my time choosing which one to read. I''m glad I chose this one. This book is odd. I can''t skirt around that issue. You will either love this book or you will detest it; and I can see both sides of view. I, personally, quite liked this. Just a background to this story: arranged marriage is somewhat common in South Korea, though this is mostly in rural areas than anything else. Women and men have traditional gender roles and women are expected to be obedient to the men in their lives (husband, father etc). Vegetarianism is still not a common practice. This is a very general background and, of course, does not apply to all South Koreans. The book, on the outside, looks at one woman''s choice to become a vegetarian, but really it is about mental illness and the constraints of society on a woman. It examines the impact of mental illness of the people around the woman rather than of the woman itself. The book is written in 3 sections and each section tells the story from the perspective of someone connected to Yeong-hye (the main character). It starts with Yeong-hye''s husband and his initial reaction to her desire to become vegetarian. Her actions and refusal to obey her husband and father see her break social norms and she becomes somewhat of an outcast. The narrative here is rather easy to read and a part of me felt for her husband, initially. The second section is written from the perspective of Yeong-hye''s brother-in-law who develops an unhealthy obsession with Yeong-hye after her admittance to a psychiatric hospital. I saw real parallels between his obsession of Yeong-hye and Yeong-hye''s obsession with trees and flowers. This part of the book is erotic and looks at the exploitation of Yeong-hye mental state. The third section is written from the perspective of Yeong-hye''s sister. It is such a depressing and dreary read that sees the aftermath of Yeong-hye''s illness on her family. I think it is quite fitting and it is here that I realised that the narrative over the 3 sections gradually became darker and more difficult to process. This, to some degree, mirrors the erosion of Yeong-hye mental state. I love how this book was written, but the ending really spoilt it for me. I didn''t really understand it and did not answer any questions I had.
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FromMarge
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Disturbing
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 12, 2019
This is not a story about a vegetarian, but rather, a woman who has a severe mental disorder that originally manifests itself in her horror of eating meat. The book is in three chapters, that make nice short stories (in fact, it was originally published as three novellas in...See more
This is not a story about a vegetarian, but rather, a woman who has a severe mental disorder that originally manifests itself in her horror of eating meat. The book is in three chapters, that make nice short stories (in fact, it was originally published as three novellas in Korea). The middle story was a little esoteric, but made more sense in the context of the third chapter. The translation is really good, I think I picked up on one or two phrases that were a bit odd, but by no means distracting from the horrific story. The story isn''t predictable, and I was riveted right until the last page. It''s disturbing, and I''m really pleased I forked out and paid for what is one of the more expensive books on kindle.
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