Book Review: The Vegetarian

I read The Vegetarian a while ago as a part of the A-Z challenge 2018 and yet I couldn’t post a review as soon as I would usually. I can blame my erratic blogging schedule but the truth is The Vegetarian by Han Kang left me so confused and perplexed that I had to step back and mull over what to say. 

Yet I can’t think of a better fitting book that I have read in the recent times than The Vegetarian to be my 100th review on my blog. Yes, you heard it right. This would be my ONE HUNDREDTH review on this blog. 

Book Name: The Vegetarian

Author: Han Kang

Genre: Fiction – Modern Classic, Literary,

Characters: Yeong-Hye, Mr. Cheong, Kim In-Hye

Setting: Seoul, South Korea

The Vegetarian talks of how cultural and societal norms make or break a person’s individuality and define one’s perspective. The Vegetarian consists of three parts Yeong-Hye’s past, present and future, from the perspectives of her husband, her brother in law and her sister Kim In-Hye. 

In a country where meat is a staple food, Yeong-Hye stops eating meat, a reaction to the bloody nightmares that she had been facing every night. Until then a passive and unassuming wife, Yeong’s decision is criticized by everyone in the family including her father who even tries to force feed her some meat. 

The more I read, the more intriguing (bizarre, even?) the book became. And given that it is such a short book, I finished it fairly fast, even when I had to re-read some parts to make sure ‘that’ really happened. Let us get on with the review, shall we?

The Vegetarian is the winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2016 among many other awards. If this had gone by my usual luck with award books, I would have been bored by about 20% of the book and still be compelling myself to continue to struggle to the end. WELL, THAT DID NOT HAPPEN. 

Just like that Yeong turns from ordinary, according to her abusive and shallow husband Mr. Cheong, to aberrant. What follows is the aftermath of her decision (to be become a The Vegetarian, rather a vegan) and how her family reacts to it. Watch out, The Vegetarian is not an easy read. It will make you question your fundamental assumptions. 

The Vegetarian is on the surface a parable on how far can one go to stay put on one’s belief. 

But it talks more about the sexism and status of women in a patriarchal society like Korea and other South Asian countries in a pliable and compliant role. The men in Yeong’s life, and thus the novel, are all disgusting in one form or the other and maybe that played a part in her decision to change her life into a ‘plant like’ being. 

If you want to read something that has a simple yet lyrical writing, yet will make you think about your judgmental self you should pick The Vegetarian by Han Kang. But be wary of triggering content – like sexual and physical  assaults, extra marital affairs and mental illness. You won’t be disappointed.

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Have you read this book earlier? Does this book depict life in South Korea? Are there any other books set in South Korea that you have read? What books have you read this week?

46 COMMENTS

  1. First of all, congratulations on 100 reviews! That is such a huge milestone (especially considering how great each review is)!

    Second, I have seen The Vegetarian around the Internet for a while now and I have been on the fence about reading it. Adult literary fiction (especially award-winners) isn’t normally in my genre comfort zone, but it looks like I will have to make an exception. I am always up for a good read with feminist undertones that can help me reverse some of my judgement and bias.

    Thanks for the amazing review!
    Tessa recently posted…The Difficulty of Seeing Space without a Telescope | The Raging OnesMy Profile

  2. I really loved this book. I’ve recently read a few of her other books including Human Acts and The White Book. Both were excellent.

  3. Firstly, 100 review is a lot and something to be celebrated! Congratulations.
    Secondly, I can see why this book left you a bit confused. I think it would have the same effect on me but I need to read it first 😉

  4. I got this book at a book fair a while ago because the story sounds quite scary, but intriguing enough for me to want to check it out – and I do not mean scary as in horror, but the whole not accepting a woman (or anyone)’s decision what to do with their own body/life.

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