What happens, in an otherwise ordinary family, when something turns its blandest-seeming member into a strange, impolite enigma? The Vegetarian, Han Kang‘s Man Booker International Prize-winning novella, explores how one woman’s decision to give up carnism impacts her immediate family for years, destroying marriages and relationships.
Mr. Cheong married Kim Yeong-hye because she was so ordinary and predictable. When Yeong-hye begins having sleeping difficulties and refuses to eat or cook any animal products, her new behavior, and the passion with which she defends it, baffles Cheong. The only explanation Yeong-hye can offer s that she has had a violent dream that has put her off of meat permanently.
In South Korea, where Han’s novel was initially published, vegetarians are rare — much more so than elsewhere. No one can understand Yeong-hye’s sudden decision, and some are downright cruel in their response. Cheong’s business associates make rude remarks about how ridiculous it is for a healthy person to give up meat, and a family dinner erupts into chaos after Yeong-hye’s father brutalizes her in an attempt to force her to eat a piece of flesh.
Knowing South Korea’s general attitude toward vegetarianism does not make The Vegetarian any less the weird novel. Divided into three parts that tell the story of Yeong-hye’s family — focusing largely on her relationship with her sister, In-hye — Han’s novella vacillates between body horror, thriller-esque suspense, and the chills that come when one is forced to question an utterly convicted person’s sanity. Ultimately, The Vegetarian is an enjoyable and short read that will leave you guessing after you’ve closed its cover.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Image credit: Alexsandr Solo
I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.
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