Title: The Vegetarian
Author: Han Kang
Date: February 2nd 2016
Publisher: Hogarth Press
The Vegetarian by Han Kang is an Adult contemporary book set in South Korea. Divided into three parts, the narrator shifts around some of the people closest to the protagonist: Yeong-hye. The book deals with schizophrenia and I read it for the Mental Health Book Bingo.
The first part is told through the point-of-view of her husband. We learn that he’s a man who relies on things whose outcome he’s sure about and he thought Yeong-hye was plain and boring, hence why he married her. One night he finds the protagonist in front of the fridge and Yeong-hye tells him her decision to become vegetarian after she had a dream.
Being a vegetarian in Korea is still uncommon, because most of the food is meat-based and the protagonist causes her husband some troubles with this choice, especially in social relations moments.
The second part is narrated by the husband of Yeong-hye’s sister, In-hye. He’s an artist and, after In-hye told him her sister still had a Mongolian mark, he’s suddenly attracted to Yeong-hye. I admit this part was the most confusing one and I still haven’t understood it completely.
In the last part of the book we could dive deeper into In-hye’s mind and we come to know more about their past and how Yeong-hye’s schizophrenia is concerning her, as her sister wants to live plant-like.
The book was raw and confusing, but it touched my heart and my mind in a deep way and it gave me a lot to think about.
I think the author wanted to give us the message that everyone is at the border between sanity and schizophrenia, and we have our health in our hands. We have the decision of which path to take. Some of us are strong enough to remain sane, while some of us have experienced things that made it easier to become schizophrenic or to spiral into darkness.
Despite the content, I was a little disturbed by the scenes of abuse and a few of rapes. I especially hated how the society was patriarchal. The story was horrible and wonderful at the same time, and I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
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About the author
Han Kang is the daughter of novelist Han Seung-won. She was born in Kwangju and at the age of 10, moved to Suyuri (which she speaks of affectionately in her work “Greek Lessons”) in Seoul.
She studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. She began her writing career when one of her poems was featured in the winter issue of the quarterly Literature and Society. She made her official literary debut in the following year when her short story “The Scarlet Anchor” was the winning entry in the daily Seoul Shinmun spring literary contest.
Since then, she has gone on to win the Yi Sang Literary Prize (2005), Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. As of summer 2013, Han teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts while writing stories and novels.