The Vegeterian

“Why, is it such a bad thing to die?”
― Han Kang, The Vegetarian 

Kuvahaun tulos haulle the vegetarian han kang The Vegetarian is a South Korean novella written by Han Kang and first published in 2007. It’s quite  a fascinating book: Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband live an ordinary life. Then Yeong-hye  becomes haunted by splintering, blood-soaked images and she decides to become a vegetarian. If the plot description doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, don’t worry. It’s supposed to be more on a poetic side.

“I want to swallow you, have you melt into me and flow through my veins.”
― Han Kang, The Vegetarian

Either way, as a result of her decision, she becomes an outcast. Novel is divided into three parts and our Yeong-hye is described through three different people. First, her husband who already dislikes her and does even more so when she stops eating meat. We move on to a second part where Yeong-hye is described by her sister’s brother who sees her more as an artist painting flowers on her body. And then finally in the third part , we see Yeong-hye through the eyes of her sister as Yeong-hee is in a mental hospital

“Know what?”
“I didn’t you see. I thought trees stood up straight… I only found out just now. They actually stand with both arms in the earth, all of them. Look, look, over there, aren’t you surprised? Yeong-hye sprang up and pointed to the window. “All of them, they’re all standing on their heads.”
― Han Kang, The Vegetarian

I read this book a year ago and I found it too difficult to give it a proper review back then. Now I picked up Kang’s new book ‘Human Acts’ and I knew that I  had to review this one before finishing it. I adore The Vegetarian. First it seems normal and thriller-istic (or Gone Girl ish)  you meet a couple and think that this will end up badly for one of them. But it’s not a thriller, it’s almost like a piece of poetry.  I loved how it slowly describes the birth and evolution of madness in Yeong-hye. First, she abandons meat but then something in her thinking shifts a bit and she doesn’t want to be this animal any longer. So she stops eating and believes she is becoming a tree. And I feel like it’s not just her going mad but everything around her and the nature too.

And then it’s not even about Yeong-hye. She may be the sun but this sun is only described by the planets rotating around it. This creates a sense of mystery or even an illusion of sorts. Something you know is real but yet something you cannot see or touch. I guess it also describes how mental illnesses affects the other people, close family especially.
5/5 stars

How-To Read Vegetarian
If you have seen Yayoi Kusama’s work and you have liked it…well this is same but in written. Kind of. I’m probably mentioning since the author mentioned it? It’s beautiful, crazy and confusing. This reminded me of Plath, Kafka and Rushdie all mixed up together. If you didn’t like Steppenwolf by Hesse then maybe you should skip this.
2. It’s very deep book and with unimaginably beautiful thoughts. A lot of them on madness, so don’t dive too deep.
3. It’s quite short of a book, perfect weekend read. Also I think it explains Korea well. For example, I had no idea that they loved meat so much.

Have you read this? Thoughts?

Featured image: ‘Infinity Mirrored Room — Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity’ by Yayoi Kusama 2009 — The Hirshhorn Museum (DC) March 2017 by Ron Cogswell

14 thoughts on “The Vegeterian

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  1. Interesting! And it sounds like there are some insights into Korea as well. I also didn’t know meat was that popular there! This really does sound rather poetic and thought provoking- I like the part where you said don’t dive TOO deep! :) Definitely looks thought provoking and different.

    1. Yeah, apparently they still don’t have a word for vegetarian, don’t know if it’s true or some urban legend but I guess it describes it well. It is a beautiful book, confusing and poetic but definitely also thought provoking and different! :)

  2. Sounds interesting! I’ve gotten so into reading memoirs and biographies of defected North Koreans over the last year but I know nothing about South Korea! Like that they love meat so much :)

    1. Same! And I mean South Korea shares same history obviously but there progress didn’t stop. I’m ashamed by how little I really know about SK… There’s Seoul, there’s this book and they make good drama (soap) shows.. and that’s the end of my knowledge.

  3. I really relate to not being able to review the book even if you enjoyed it. I purchased The Vegetarian last year but I have yet to read it – excited to do so, though. I only heard great things about it.

    1. Reading a good book creates fireworks in your mind :) and just try to make any sense of anything in the middle of that show. It’s a very fascinating book!

  4. How interesting book, thanks for sharing it & review as without this I would’ve been totally ignorant about this.

    Eventually as I thought too much about the suffering of the animals it become difficult for me to eat meat. After I turned into vegetarian, I had one time such nightmare were I ate meat and it was terrible. Although the dream was nightmarish and I wondered why I judged myself there so hard after I woke up, I think overall it reinforced my desire not to turn back, even though my conviction to stay vegetarian wasn’t weak to begin with.

    This might be interesting to read some day :)

    1. Thanks for reading! :)

      I do think you’d find this book interesting. And how fascinating that you had a dream like this too! Although despite it’s title, I believe it’s more about human mind and society than it is about vegetarianism. Or otherwise, one could think that all vegetarians end up as mad as Yeong-hye… This book maybe won’t give the best impression about being vegetarianism is my point.

      (I do hate how animals suffer. But if we really did not want animals to suffer, shouldn’t we limit growth of the population…Only have one child if even that. Shouldn’t we limit overconsumption. Then food industry worries me a lot. If Warburg received a Nobel for his work that sugar leads to cancer (and carbs turn into glucose in our bodies) and food industry runs on wheat, sugar and water so there’s something wrong with that concept.)

  5. Great review. You are spot-on! I read this one for my book club but didn’t post a review. While I can say that I appreciated it, I can’t say that I enjoyed it. It was a little too metaphoric for me. I can understand why so many people loved it though. It was a good book club pick as it’s hard not to have a strong reaction about this book one way or the other.

    1. Thank you Ann Marie! Also you promote book clubs well…I now want to join one! I think I kind of properly got into this work only around third part when it was clear that there’s something wrong with Yeong-hye. Before that…yes I appreciated it but I couldn’t get a hang of it so I understand how you feel.

  6. Wow, comparing this to Yayoi Kusama is pretty strong :) and yes, Yayoi Kusama is awesome. But, TBH, I have been afraid to read this book – because I feel like it’ll probably be triggering. And most countries love meat xD it’s kind of hard to be a vegetarian (I was on the vegetarian side once… you have to deal with a lot of crap, especially from family.)

    1. She is awesome, I just felt like this book is like her dots. Something a bit mad, something you do not completely understand. I think this book expresses everything in a very subtle manner, then again we all are triggered by different things so that is hard to comment on. Yeah :D I was really surprised how they think of vegetarians in South Korea.

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