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Book Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Book Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang is disturbing and beautiful.

Having flirted with the idea of turning towards a vegetarian diet for quite some time now, I was instantly drawn to The Vegetarian. When I was 17, I decided to give up meat for lent, to prove to a friend that I could and would survive for forty days without meat. However, when I got home from school and announced this news to my mother (Chinese), she was horrified.

Although the vegetarian movement has grown enormously in the West, it is not wholly accepted in East Asia. This is partly what Han Kang explores in her phenomenal piece, The Vegetarian.

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.

First of all, I have to admit that at first I just didn’t get this book. It was disturbing enough that I kept reading but it wasn’t what I was expecting at all and when I put the book down I was very confused. It wasn’t until after I had done a bit of research and read about what Han Kang was trying to get at that I really began to appreciate all the themes in this story. You’re not supposed to understand everything that happens here and if you go looking for a “right” answer to everything then you’ve missed the point entirely.

Told from three different perspectives, we see Yeong-hye descend into a sort of quiet madness through the eyes of her husband, her best friend and said friend’s husband. Each chapter is very distinct and we get a glimpse at the inner workings of this family that once seemed “normal” from the outside.

Kang shows us how our inner demons can haunt us and what happens when they finally break loose. There’s conflict between father and daughter, husband and wife, sister and sister. Through these relationships and conflicts we are given a glimpse into Korean culture.

Of course, this book is not representative of all Korean culture (I would be pretty worried if it did), but it certainly makes you aware of some of the stark cultural differences between the East and the West. Being half Chinese myself, I can imagine that turning vegetarian could actually have such a huge impact on your family.

The plot seems a little surreal at times and the writing can be rather abstract. The imagery is disturbing and yet beautiful all at once. Kang weaves together these two notions, completely captivating the reader and compelling you to read on even though alarm bells are ringing at the back of your brain. Reading The Vegetarian almost brings you into a trance-like state, much like the leading character herself, Yeong-hye.

Finally, I must say that The Vegetarian isn’t for the faint hearted or the squeamish. Whilst I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say there are “gory” parts, there were a couple of passages that made my stomach squirm. Make no mistake, this story isn’t the happy story of how a woman moved towards a plant based diet – it is dark, it is disturbing, it is distressing. Kang’s description of the protagonist through the eyes of her narrators is frighteningly compelling and it’s certainly not a book I’ll be forgetting anytime soon.

Buy The Vegetarian: 
Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble

If you liked this post, check out these:
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Book Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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Laura is a culture and travel blogger based in London. She studied French at Oxford University and now studies Law in London. She’s an avid reader and traveller and loves to combine the two with literary travel. Find her tips and reviews on the best reads, eats and destinations on whatshotblog.com.

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  1. Jinzo_2400
    20th October 2017 / 5:46 PM

    While I don’t eat a LOT of meat,I still crave a good burger and I can’t see myself giving that up.
    I know this lifestyle just wouldn’t be for me.

  2. 20th October 2017 / 8:11 PM

    It sounds like an interesting book, though I’m not sure I would be able to get my head completely around all the themes.

  3. 21st October 2017 / 12:34 PM

    It sounds like an interesting book but one to have some cliff notes to go alongside it 😉

  4. Melanie
    21st October 2017 / 12:52 PM

    Looks like a good read, complex, but may give it a go :)x

  5. Helen Clark
    21st October 2017 / 10:11 PM

    This sounds a really interesting read. I love books that really make you think about them and that stay with you after you have read them.

  6. 22nd October 2017 / 7:08 AM

    This sounds like a book that I would love. I haven’t read a non-fictional book in ages.

  7. Zena's Suitcase
    22nd October 2017 / 9:57 PM

    I have to admit this book sounds fascinating. I like a story that explores darker topics

  8. 23rd October 2017 / 7:03 AM

    Oh sounds like a really unusual book although I don’t think I could deal with the stomach churning bits x

  9. 23rd October 2017 / 5:48 PM

    I quite like dark stories that you really have to work at. This sounds just like something that would be up my street. Thank you for the review. x

  10. Hungry_Healthy_Happy
    24th October 2017 / 4:08 PM

    I haven’t actually heard of this book. I haven’t eaten meet for about 4 weeks now, but I am not going to call myself a vegetarian because I might eat meat again in the future, I just go with what I feel my body needs.

  11. 27th October 2017 / 9:30 PM

    I love abstract, slightly surreal writing. I find it easy to get lost in their world and thoughts. C x

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