The Vegetarian: Han Kang

Translated by – Deborah Smith

I could not tell you why I decided to read this book. During my large Waterstones order (honestly, next day delivery on books is fantastic), I happened upon it and it looked pretty interesting. The Vegetarian even won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016. I have never read anything by a Korean author before and was intrigued to try this out. Han Kang is a South Korean author, who also teaches creative writing at Seoul Institution of the Arts.

This book emerged from a line of poetry from Yi Sang – “I believe that humans should be plants.” The Vegetarian is the story of Yeong-hye, a young woman who becomes convinced of her transformation into a tree. The novel is told from the viewpoints of those around Yeong-hye, her husband, brother-in-law and her sister. After Yeong-hye stops eating meat and all animal products, she embarks upon her journey towards plant-hood. Her fear of flesh leads to a sexual awakening and liberation from the constraints of human nature and obligation. Her loss of grip on reality is something that confuses and fascinates those around us, who wish to understand her freedom.

Dark is probably one of the best ways to describe this book. It is tumultuous and twisting, complex and confusing. Whilst reading this I found something gripping, yet terrible about Yeong-hye and her mental journey. The writing is haunting, something I would not normally discuss in relation to a translated works – yet I feel this is what Han Kang would have wanted. I would most definitely recommend this novel, yet I would perhaps suggest that a good head space is needed to tackle this.



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