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The Vegetarian (2007)

by Han Kang

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,4242514,750 (3.56)1 / 299
"Before the nightmares began, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary, controlled life. But the dreams--invasive images of blood and brutality--torture her, driving Yeong-hye to purge her mind and renounce eating meat altogether. It's a small act of independence, but it interrupts her marriage and sets into motion an increasingly grotesque chain of events at home. As her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister each fight to reassert their control, Yeong-hye obsessively defends the choice that's become sacred to her. Soon their attempts turn desperate, subjecting first her mind, then her body, to ever more intrusive and perverse violations, sending Yeong-hye spiraling into a dangerous, bizarre estrangement, not only from those closest to her but also from herself."--Jacket.… (more)
  1. 10
    The Yellow Wallpaper [short story] by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (MissBrangwen)
    MissBrangwen: Although they were written in different periods of time, both texts reminded me of each other because of their dealing with the female experience of confinement.
  2. 21
    Human Acts by Kang Han (whitsunweddings)
    whitsunweddings: It's briefly mentioned in The Vegetarian that the Artist is a 5.18 survivor. For those unfamiliar, Han Kang's book on the Gwangju Massacre gives context for the trauma that he - and Korea as a whole - went through.
  3. 10
    Blindness by José Saramago (owen1218)
  4. 00
    The Hole by Pyun Hye-young (sturlington)
  5. 00
    Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler (vwinsloe)
    vwinsloe: Both books involve a mysterious woman and the perceptions, projections and assumptions about her by others.
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» See also 299 mentions

English (241)  Spanish (3)  Italian (2)  German (1)  Piratical (1)  Danish (1)  French (1)  All languages (250)
Showing 1-5 of 241 (next | show all)
The character, Yeong-hye, made me think of Bartleby the Scrivener by Melville. Both characters decide to opt out of normal societal roles and refuse to participate. Yeong-hye crosses boundaries by refusing to eat meat (a rarity in her society), by ignoring constricting expectations and roles for women, and ultimately stepping out of normal human behavior. Her body is political.

SPOILER: In an interview with the author, she says she was "...harbouring questions about human violence and the (im)possibility of innocence. On the reverse side of the protagonist Yeong-hye’s extreme attempt to turn her back on violence by casting off her own human body and transforming into a plant lies a deep despair and doubt about humanity."
  -Pia- | Sep 10, 2021 |
I just... I have no idea what to say about this book. Everyone and everything is just so... I want to say messed up but that doesn't come close to enough. There were so many different things going on with the interconnected characters that I wasn't sure who was more screwed up or mentally ill or abusive or misogynistic.

I have to say that I did enjoy (although I'm not sure that's the right word for it) how the sisters' characters were unfolded. I honestly never had any idea where this book was going from one chapter to the next. There haven't been many books that have made me have visceral reactions the way parts of this book did. So there's that. Noticing the various cultural differences was interesting too. It's definitely not a book that can be understood as much while applying American mores.

Would I recommend it? Not a blanket recommendation, that's for sure. But if you like reading very dark books about dysfunctional families and mental illness, it could be right up your alley. I'm not sorry that I read it but it was a difficult read nearly all the way through. ( )
1 vote amcheri | May 25, 2021 |
The sudden decision of a young woman to become vegetarian has dire consequences in Korean author Han Kang’s first work to be translated into English (brilliantly by Deborah Smith). The book is divided into three short sections. In the first we meet Yeong-hye, who is married to Mr. Cheong. Mr. Cheong doesn’t like disruption: one of the reasons he married Yeong-hye was because she is “unremarkable.” Their life together is placid and holds no surprises, until the day he returns home to find her throwing away all the meat in the freezer. She informs him she’s become vegetarian and when he presses her for a reason, she tells him that she’s been visited by a violent, bloody recurring dream. The change creates a deep rift in the marriage, and, later, a savage confrontation with her father leaves Yeong-hye injured and hospitalized. In part two, “Mongolian Mark,” Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law is an artist obsessed with the human body. He convinces Yeong-hye, now living on her own and, after her earlier trauma, in a fragile mental state, to take part in a project that requires her to be filmed naked. And in part three, “Flaming Trees,” Yeong-hye, institutionalized and refusing to eat, is visited by her older sister, In-hye, at the facility where she’s being treated. The Vegetarian is infused with a profound sense of loss and unutterable sadness. Yeong-hye’s behaviour comes under a microscope: other characters are unable to accept her actions and obsessively try to decipher her motives and figure out why she is destroying herself. They claim to want to help her, but from the moment she makes her decision, almost every human interaction that Yeong-hye endures is a form of violation. This concise narrative is delightfully enigmatic, deeply disturbing and psychologically rich. It generates great suspense as well as a uniquely creepy urgency. The questions that swirl around Yeong-hye’s mysterious desires have to do with asserting control over one’s body. Who, other than oneself, has the right to make those decisions? Han Kang has written a haunting, mesmerizing, nightmarish work of fiction that readers will not easily forget. ( )
  icolford | May 18, 2021 |
This book is rough. I don’t know if it’s accurate to say that I enjoyed it because it doesn’t feel like the sort of book you enjoy, you just have strong reactions at it until it’s done. It’s digging deep into the culture of mental illness and of marginalization, of behaving according to expected gender roles and of the lifelong toll of systematic child abuse. It’s just really rough. But it’s also beautifully written and I’m happy that I read it. ( )
  jobinsonlis | May 11, 2021 |
This book is written in 3 parts. The first is from the perspective of her husband, the second is from the perspective of her brother-in-law and the third is from the perspective of her sister.

She has a dream and, thereafter, ceases to eat meat. No one understands her explanation. Her father and her husband take it as personal affronts that she refuses to eat it.

This is not a happy story and it doesn't have a happy ending. ( )
  KittyCunningham | Apr 26, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 241 (next | show all)
The strength of Kang's voice is in her refusal to smoothen the rough edges of her characters - they bare their scars and innermost vulnerabilities and yet don't appear drawing sympathy.
 
What flows through "The Vegetarian" is an urgent need to detach oneself from the constraints of the human body, to transform and possibly transcend its limits completely.
 
“The Vegetarian” is an existential nightmare, as evocative a portrayal of the irrational as I’ve come across in some time.
 
But The Vegetarian isn’t an anti-meat manifesto or an uplifting story of emancipation. Instead, in dreamlike passages punctuated by bursts of startling physical and sexual violence, Kang viscerally explores the limits of what a human brain and body can endure, and the strange beauty that can be found in even the most extreme forms of renunciation.
 
At first, you might eye the title and scan the first innocuous sentence — “Before my wife turned vegetarian, I thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way” — and think that the biggest risk here might be converting to vegetarianism. (I myself converted, again; we’ll see if it lasts.) But there is no end to the horrors that rattle in and out of this ferocious, magnificently death-affirming novel.
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Han Kangprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lee, Ki-HyangTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, DeborahTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Before my wife turned vegetarian, I'd always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"Before the nightmares began, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary, controlled life. But the dreams--invasive images of blood and brutality--torture her, driving Yeong-hye to purge her mind and renounce eating meat altogether. It's a small act of independence, but it interrupts her marriage and sets into motion an increasingly grotesque chain of events at home. As her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister each fight to reassert their control, Yeong-hye obsessively defends the choice that's become sacred to her. Soon their attempts turn desperate, subjecting first her mind, then her body, to ever more intrusive and perverse violations, sending Yeong-hye spiraling into a dangerous, bizarre estrangement, not only from those closest to her but also from herself."--Jacket.

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Book description
Yeong-Bye 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-Bye, seeking a more 'plant-like' existence, commits a shocking act of subversion. As her rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, Yeong-Bye spirals further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming - impossibly, ecstatically - a tree.
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