“Why, is it such a bad thing to die?”
― 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,
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
“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.
How-To Read Vegetarian
1. 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?