Author: Han Kang
Synopsis (no spoilers):
The story is all about Yeong-hye, a demure, average women. The setting is Seoul, South Korea where Yeong-hye and her husband couple reside. In the beginning of the story, the reader learns that the hardworking husband marries Yeong-hye because she’s average, mellow and would make a good wife. She cooks tasty, traditional meals. She comes from a seemingly traditional family. She cleans the house and irons his work clothing without hesitation. She likes her alone time, often reading in her room when the chores are done, and would never embarrass him, so he thinks.
One night, Yeong-hye has a dream; a dream that will alter her demeanor harshly. The morning after the dream, the husband finds the wife cleaning out the fridge and throwing away all of the food that comes from animals. Hundreds of dollars of frozen meat and fish, eggs and dairy all go straight into the trash.
She begins losing weight quickly, making work dinners uncomfortable, refusing sexual contact because he ‘smells’ of meat even after a shower; the average girl he thought he married has become a completely different person. Yeong-hye’s alteration is much more than a change in diet, she seems to be having a mental breakdown.
The story comes from three different POV’s. Each POV has it’s own part; there are no chapters sectioning the book, it’s just three parts. Personally, I tend to prefer books with shorter chapters to break up my reading, but this book was so short that it didn’t bother me. As the story progresses, the reader learns about Yeong-hye’s life through her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister. The three parts are:
- The Vegetarian (POV: Mr. Cheong, the husband)
- Mongolian Mark (POV: the brother-in-law)
- Flaming Trees (POV: In-hye, the sister)
The novel is beautifully written; the words are descriptive and emotional. I wanted to continue reading, to find out what happens to Yeong-hye. I enjoyed learning about South Korean norms but most endearing part of the story is her draw to nature. She has become a vegetarian (technically, a vegan) and simultaneously gravitates towards everything related to nature. She is overcome with her obsession with nature, so much that she values herself much less.
Overall, I would recommend the book. I loved the unpredictability of the story. I loved the depth of the characters. However, I can also see why it has received some mixed reviews. The story is dark, it includes blood, abuse, mental instability, and several disturbing thoughts and dreams. Looking back, perhaps I should’ve saved this read for a dark winter evening, as opposed to a vibrant summer day.
Although the reader gets a bit of insight to Yeong-hye’s thoughts from the few excerpts of her thoughts/dreams, it’s quite hard to understand what she’s going through. There are several messages to be taken from The Vegetarian; personally, I was taken with the idea that you never truly understand what someone else is going through. Even if you’ve experienced the same thing yourself, everyone deals with the ups and downs of life in their own way.
My Next Read:
Forks, Knives and Spoons by Leah DeCesare