The Vegetarian: Book summary and reviews of The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian

by Han Kang

The Vegetarian by Han Kang X
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2016
    192 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, and the irreconcilable conflict between our two selves: one greedy, primitive; the other accountable to family and society. Winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more "plant-like" existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye - impossibly, ecstatically, tragically - far from her once-known self altogether.

A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. This is an ingenious, upsetting, and unforgettable novel." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. In a culture in which mental illness is met too often with dismissal or denial, Kang's novel is sure to draw both scrutiny and applause, in no small part owing to London-based Smith's seamless translation. Family dysfunction amid cultural suffocation is presented with elegant precision, transforming readers into complicit voyeurs. Fans of authors as diverse as Mary Karr and Haruki Murakami won't be able to turn away." - Library Journal

"The book insists on a reader's attention, with an almost hypnotically serene atmosphere interrupted by surreal images and frighteningly recognizable moments of ordinary despair ... An unusual and mesmerizing novel, gracefully written and deeply disturbing." - Kirkus

"Dark dreams, simmering tensions, chilling violence…This South Korean novel is a feast…It is sensual, provocative and violent, ripe with potent images, startling colors and disturbing questions…Sentence by sentence, The Vegetarian is an extraordinary experience… [It] will be hard to beat." - The Guardian (UK)

"This short novel is one of the most startling I have read… Exciting and imaginative…The author reveals how nature, sex and art crash through this polite society…It is the women who are killed for daring to establish their own identity. The narrative makes it clear it is the crushing pressure of Korean etiquette which murders them…[A] disturbing book." - The Independent (UK)

"The Vegetarian is a book about the failures of language and the mysteries of the physical. Yet its message should not undermine Han's achievement as a writer. Like its anti-protagonist, The Vegetarian whispers so clearly, it can be heard across the room, insistently and with devastating, quiet violence." - The New Statesman (UK)

"[A] strange and ethereal fable, rendered stranger still by the cool precision of the prose… What is ultimately most troubling about Yeong-hye's post-human fantasies is that they appear to be a reasonable alternative to the world of repression and denial in which everyone around her exists." - Times Literary Supplement (UK)

"The Vegetarian combines human violence and the possibility of innocence...[A] frightening beauty of a novel." - British Council Literature (UK)

"Shocking...The writing throughout is precise and spare, with not a word wasted. There are no tricks. Han holds the reader in a vice grip...It is about escape and how a dreamer takes flight. Most of all, it is about the emptiness and rage of discovering there is nothing to be done when all hope and comfort fails...A work of savage beauty and unnerving physicality." - Irish Times (Eire)

"Uncanny." - The Australian (Australia)

"Kang belongs to a generation of writers that aim to discover secret drives, ambitions, and miseries behind one's personal destiny...[The Vegetarian] deals with violence, sanity, cultural limits, and the value of the human body as the last refuge and private space." -Tiempo Argentino (Argentina)

"The almost perverse seduction of this book originates in the poetry of the images. They are violently erotic and rather nightmarish; the novel is like a room full of large flowers, where the musky odour takes you by the throat." - De Groene Amsterdammer (Holland)

"Starred Review. For the fans of Haruki Murakami." - Gazet van Antwerpen (Holland)

"Starred Review. The Vegetarian has an odd kind of silent power, which makes you want to finish it in one go and continue to think about it." - nrc Handelsblad (Holland)

"Starred Review. The Vegetarian is exciting and original." - De Standaard der Letteren (Holland)

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Reader Reviews

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B.B. Toady

Shows the most amazing similarities in our ability to hold onto ourselves.
The Vegetarian by Han King is a story about a persons's state of mind, the decision to let life go or to hold onto it, and our inability to truly understand one another. The story was written in and is set in South Korea and translated for publication in the US. It is a perfect example of a well translated piece as it reads flawlessly.

The whole theme of the story is that we are all capable of letting go of our sanity. It hinges on whether we find a reason to hold onto it or not. Our lives aren't so much about if we appear to have love, family, success in our work and home lives, etc., but whether we recognize it as such, and if it's enough to get us to hold on.

Han King nailed it when it comes to not only laying out a good story, but giving the reader something that sticks to the bones. This story crawled inside of me and wont let go. I think of all the times we all must have had to make the decision to plug along while our mind is telling us to let go. I think that we are mostly alike in that way.

The Vegetarian is dark and disturbing, and yet strangely beautiful at the same time, and it is the author's willingness to expose some of her deepest thoughts and vulnerabilities that make it so. I recommend this beautiful story to any of you who enjoy a story that seems too strange to be true, but probably isn't. I personally love all the oddity that borders on the reality of life that I can get. Thank you, Han King.

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Author Information

Han Kang

Han Kang was born in 1970 in South Korea. In 1993 she made her literary debut as a poet, and was first published as novelist in 1994. A participant of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Han has won the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today's Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. She currently works as a professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts. Visit her at www.writerhankang.com.

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