Multi award winning book and winner of the most recent Man Booker prize 2016, The Vegetarian by Han Kang is now on multiple best seller lists worldwide, setting the bar high. Set in modern day Seoul, this is the visceral and enthralling story of Yeong- hye, a young woman who suddenly decides to stop eating meat after experiencing a nightmare. Korea’s meat loving food culture contradicts this, and as such this book (part one of three, which is followed by Mongolian Marks and Flaming Tree) dictates the difficulties to becoming a vegetarian in a society where vegetarians are scarce and the difficulties of navigating taboo in a beautifully poetic way.
‘I had a dream’, she repeated.
The narrator, husband of the vegetarian had always picked his battles carefully. Wanting the upper hand and feeling superior in his crowd is what makes him most comfortable. So when choosing his wife, he also applied the same principle. A reserved woman, one who keeps to herself and never complains. He found her, but one night he is woken up to her standing idly, not her usual self. After several attempts of waking her from her trance, she says ‘I had a dream’. Little did he know, her nightmare will now become his.
“In any other case, it was nothing but sheer obstinacy for a wife to go against her husband’s wishes as mine had done”.
Kang remarkably keeps the story moving with every page turned, keeping us hooked on the development of a character who enjoys monotony, and when this is disturbed by his wife’s horrific dream which leads to her becoming a vegetarian, he suffers along with her.
Kang, born in Gwangju, South Korea, moved to Seoul at the age of ten. She studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. Her writing has won the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award and the Korean Literature Novel Award. And to no surprise. Her writing has an incredibly subtle yet riveting style, along with the translation by Deborah Smith of The Vegetarian, serves to create a powerhouse of emotions, stirring up disturbing images, off-beat menacism all interwoven between beautiful poetic narration.
We won’t reveal too much more as that will spoil the experience of reading this extraordinary book – save to say this book is a sheer delight and un-put-down-able.
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