The Vegetarian

by Han Kang | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 1846276039 Global Overview for this book
Registered by ruzena on 11/7/2016
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5 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by ruzena on Monday, November 07, 2016
Originally published in Korean as three separate novelettes and then compiled into a novel, 채식주의자 Chaesikju-uija, Changbi Publishers Inc. 2007. Transl. by Deborah Smith, Portobello Books (2015,) pocketbook 2015. 183 pages.

The Man Booker International Prize 2016

"Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more 'plant-like' existence, commits a shocking act of subversion. As her rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, Yeong-hye spirals further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming - impossibly, ecstatically - a tree."

Edit. 30.3.17.
Possible spoilers! To read, paint with the mouse.

The protagonist in the first part of the story is Yeong-hye's husband. His compliant housewife has a dream and turns vegetarian. The husband tries to make her change her mind, and her father tries to force her to eat meat. At that point, the compliant woman finally reacts violently. The husband then writes out divorce papers.

The second part takes place two years later, and the point of view is that of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law. Yeong-hye is sexually exploited by him. The sister of Yeong-hye gets to know, and men in white are called to take Yeong-hye while policemen take the brother-in-law.

The third part takes place a year later, and the point of view is that of Yeong-hye's sister In-hye. Yeong-hye is in long-term hospital care and still does not want to eat. She wants to turn into a tree and therefore she says she only needs water. She finally ceases to talk. The end is up to the reader.


The story is at first absurd and has even black humor. Then it turns shocking and brutal. The vegetarian, Yeong-hye, has no turn to speak but the perspectives are that of her husband, then of her brother-in-law, and then of her sister In-hye. The sister finally proved the most understandable figure of the novel. She takes responsibility and feels guilty because of Yeong-hye.
[In-hye]’d been unable to forgive her for soaring alone over a boundary she herself could never bring herself to cross, unable to forgive that magnificient irresponsibility that had enabled Yeong-hye to shuck off social constraints and leave her behind, still a prisoner. And before Yeong-hye had broken those bars, she’d never even known they were there. (p. 143)

Yeong-hye's argument for vegetarianism is just: "I had a dream". Yeong-hye's head does not let you, or anyone, in.
Yeong-hye averts her head as though wanting to evade her sister’s question, as though the last thing in the world she wants to do right now is to give her any kind of answer. (p. 182)

The book tells not only about vegetarianism (or rather, Yeong-hye is vegan). It tells about dissidence and attitudes towards it. It tells about different ways to underrate and oppress a woman. It tells about power, addict and passion, especially the second part, in which Yeong hye’s Mongolian spot is, for her brother-in-law, the fetishism-like obsession under the guise of making art.

An article in Helsingin Sanomat highlights the author's policy: the novel is a statement for nonviolent resistance, and the author is reported to have been blacklisted in South Korea.
After seeing that review, I read the book again to check the political in it. Well: Martin Luther King said, I have a dream. Yeong-hye said, I had a dream.
But you can ask what is a dream for which one's marriage and family relations are destroyed, her sister's marriage is destroyed, and eventually the dreamer is destroyed. This is a tough book for the reader.

I seldom like descriptions of dreams or fictive medical case histories in literature. Any writer can set them up. I want the argument to be found in real life. But speculative fiction can be combined if it is done elegantly. This author does some. By the first reading, Vegetarist reminded me of Kafka.

The book may have too many themes and topics. The reader may not only confuse the notions vegetarian / vegan, but may get an impression that they were eating disorders. They are not. Still Yeong-hye appears to have an eating disorder too, and in addition she is diagnosed schizophrenic. This either lacks credibility, or then the author wants to show how the society tends to renounce deviant people’s mental health.

The covers are spoiled with critique quotations, numerous and praising. I do not feel, for example, that the novel is "mouth-wateringly poetic", I find it scarce and distant, cool and laconic - and good as such.
I did not like the book overwhelmingly, but 8 points come for being "different", original and interesting.

-ruzena

Journal Entry 2 by ruzena at hippa, a fellow bookcrosser -- Controlled Releases on Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Released 2 yrs ago (5/2/2017 UTC) at hippa, a fellow bookcrosser -- Controlled Releases

CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:

Wishing you an extraordinary experience!

Journal Entry 3 by wingTyrnimarjawing at Helsinki, Uusimaa / Nyland Finland on Wednesday, May 03, 2017
The book arrived today, thanks ruzena! And thank you also for the nice bookmark and Suvi Ahola´s book review 10.3.17 in HS that has gone totally unnoticed by me!
I will read your comments about this book after reading it myself, just to avoid any "pre-attitudes":)

Journal Entry 4 by wingTyrnimarjawing at Helsinki, Uusimaa / Nyland Finland on Tuesday, July 18, 2017
The Vegetarian is a really weird story and I find it difficult to understand the author's message.
Referring to S.Ahola's book review (attached), I couldn't see any hidden political messages in the story. But that may be due to the fact that my South Korean knowledge is very limited. I know nothing about Gwangjun happenings and very little about the Korean war.
So, I read this simply as a family story, story about mental illness and rebellion.
I have nothing against vegetarians but I am fed up with all the fussing about food and the huge role that it has taken in some people's life and therefore I felt great irritation while reading part 1.
It was nice and interesting to read a book written by Korean author, my first in fact. The translated language is easy and beautiful!
Thanks for sharing this ruzena!

Journal Entry 5 by wingTyrnimarjawing at Piikkiö, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Sunday, July 23, 2017

Released 2 yrs ago (7/24/2017 UTC) at Piikkiö, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland

CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:

I sent this book to MiuM. I hope it will be liked:).
S. Ahola's article is attached also.

Journal Entry 6 by MiuM at Kaarina, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Sunday, July 30, 2017
Thank you for this book! I do not know what to expect at all, so this will be interesting.

Journal Entry 7 by MiuM at Kaarina, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Friday, July 26, 2019
I finally started reading this book and just finished the first section. I don't know what to make of it. It just feels like long suppressed, almost unconscious anger towards people and society drove her into a state of wanting to fade herself away. Is silent resistance that destroyes the rebel worth it?
---
28.7. I finished the book. It really was a curious and quite melancholic case. Eniqmatic and sad

Here is a good review: http://readerwhydidimarryhim.blogspot.com/2016/12/han-kang-vegetarian.html

Journal Entry 8 by MiuM at Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Monday, July 29, 2019
No one took the book from the local maat-up, so it is still with me, for now.

Journal Entry 9 by MiuM at Ranta-Kerttu in Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Saturday, August 17, 2019

Released 5 mos ago (8/17/2019 UTC) at Ranta-Kerttu in Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland

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BC-KESÄPÄIVÄT

Onnittelut! Olet löytänyt aarteen, kiertävän bookcrossing-kirjan!
Lue, journaloi ja vapauta uudelleen.

Journal Entry 10 by wingsakirmowing at Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Saturday, August 17, 2019
I've heard many things about this book, good and bad, and never really made up my mind whether I want to read it or not, but since it was presented at the Kesäpäivä buffet table today... well, here it is :)

Journal Entry 11 by wingsakirmowing at Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Thursday, November 07, 2019
Not sure what I expected of this book, but I certainly didn't expect it to be this BORING! Struggled with it for two weeks and the only reason I finished it was the country challenge, otherwise would have given up in the middle of 2nd chapter...

Journal Entry 12 by wingsakirmowing at Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Released 2 mos ago (11/26/2019 UTC) at Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland

CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:

Wishlist book for the sweepstakes winner!


Read and Release at BookCrossing.com...

Journal Entry 13 by wingschwesterwing at Wien Bezirk 03 - Landstraße, Wien Austria on Thursday, December 05, 2019
Thank you!!! From my wishlist!

Journal Entry 14 by wingschwesterwing at Wien Bezirk 03 - Landstraße, Wien Austria on Friday, January 24, 2020
I can't remember why I put this on my wishlist, but I'm very glad I did. I liked this book a lot and felt not bored at all.
I even liked the complexity, although I could not say why it is not too much in a thin book like that. Starting with the nauseating reactions on veganism in the first part - I could have screamed at that dinner with the boss. Then the violent father and strange husband in the first part, OMG. But then I find it getting more and more peaceful, which is maybe idiotic. Honestly I don't get video art - but for the first time I could at least imagine the motivation for it. And even more so with eating disorders: of course I KNOW it is a psychiatric condition, but still I find it harder to keep a professional emotional attitude towards it than with other psychiatric conditions - I somehow think it to be somehow annoyingly aggressive (which is strange, I now, as this is autoaggression, but still). This was the first time I got a different impression (although I'm still not convinced this is going to be a general rule) - simply a very convincingly told story.

As this is a very strange book indeed, it is maybe even stranger to call some bits odd, but still I have to: why on earth is it called the Vegetarian when nobody is ever a vegetarian but a vegan? (Not that it makes a big difference, but well...) Is this the translation?! I tried to read about it a bit, but I remains a mystery to me. But en route trying to find an answer to the vegetarian-vegan question I found out the translator only started learning Korean 6 (six!) years before she translated the book and there was a lot of criticism of that translation. There was also a lot of praise for the translation, which more or less says it is not really a translation but a sort of adaption and the book was improved by it, but still, this seems totally strange to me: there are so very many people in the world and neither Korean nor English are languages at the brink of extinction - there should be quite some people speaking both languages!

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