Han Kang || The Vegetarian


Han Kang was rewarded the International Booker Prize for this novel. I suspect the subtle way it leads to its conclusion has a lot to do with that. The novel consists of three parts that describe determining episodes in its main character’s Yeong-hye life. In part one her husband takes us along in her decision to become a vegetarian, in part two her brother-in-law – an artist – talks about seducing (or rather raping her) in order to create art and in the third part sister In-hye shares her worries over her own life and that of Yeong-hye who by then is being treated in a mental institution. She has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and refuses to eat. She is convinced she has become like a tree or plant and therefore needs fluids only. The reader knows from the start Yeong-hye has not become a vegetarian out of idealistic reasons. In the first part she shares her dreams with us, the ones that have influenced her decision. They are fierce, almost bordering on scary visions, and cause her to her lose sleep and appetite. Unfortunately her family does not put one and one together and does not inquire about those dreams. They prefer forcing her to eat, with words and physical violence. In part three Kang reveals that Yeong-hye’s father has been abusing her, in this way giving the schizophrenia a starting point. In-hye,the only one who visits her sister, slowly realizes that Yeong-hye through her condition and her decision not to eat makes her escape. She also realizes that she also could have escaped if only. The novel is made special by the precise and well-wrought way Kang builds up to In-hye starting to understand what has happened. It helps that sentences are beautiful (for which one may also thank the translator!), that structure and the choice for three storytellers support the story. Yeong-hye changes from a strange, head-strong woman who ruins her husbands career and makes life difficult for her family into a victim. The storytellers add to the build-up: the distant, selfish husband, next the artistic brother-in-law who sacrifices Yeong-hye’s fragility to his own desire to create and finally In-hye who goes from being slightly annoyed with her troublesome sister to the one person who finally understands and helps her. The Vegetarian is a novel that deserves to be read with care and attention. It is short but powerful.



About booksandliliane

I am an avid reader and love to share my love for literature. I have my own opinion on books that have been shortlisted, laureated by critics or are pushed on us by bookstores. I will try and explain why I like or do not like a book. Hopefully influencing you in your choice of books to read.
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