Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Author: Han Kang
Translator: Deborah Smith
Publisher: Hogarth
Pages: 192
Format: E-book
Published: February, 2016
Price: $10.65 -> Rp141.554 (Amazon)
Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Date started: August 26, 2016 - Date finished: August 31, 2016

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.

A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.
The lives of Kim Yeong-hye and her husband is as ordinary as anyone else's. That is until one day Yeong-hye decided to become a vegetarian and rid herself of all meat. When her husband found out, he thought she was just going through a phase, but when his wife won't cook any food that are meat-related in the house, he realized that his wife was serious. When asked why she wants to become a vegetarian, her answer was short and simple: it was because of a dream she had. After seeing what his wife had become, which was a thin, frail woman. He told Yeong-hye's family in the hopes that they can make her want to eat meat again. When they heard about this news they were shocked and appalled as to why she would do such a thing.

Of course, none of them truly believed Yeong-hye's reason of becoming a vegetarian because it was quite ridiculous. But what they don't know is that this dream occurs quite frequently. People around her forces Yeong-hye to stop being a vegetarian. One time during a family gathering, Yeong-hye's father actually shoved a meat inside her mouth while her husband and her brother-in-law held her down, but even then she stayed firm with her decision of being a vegetarian. What exactly is this dream about that made Yeong-hye like that.
When a person undergoes such a drastic transformation, there's simply nothing anyone else can do but sit back and let them get on with it.
The writing is actually the most interesting aspect of this book. The writing was beautiful, a lot of quotable sentences and it is written in third-person using multiple POVs where each of these POVs describe the events that occurred in Yeong-hye's life. How they about Yeong-hye being a vegetarian, what opinions they have on her becoming a vegetarian, what they felt about her and how they deal with her. So we basically know Yeong-hye's from these POVs. There are three POVs in this book that deals with marriage, family drama and obsession.

The first one is Yeong-hye's husband, Mr. Cheong. His perspective marks the beginning of Yeong-hye's vegetarianism and some bits and pieces of her dream. The second POV is Yeong-hye's brother-in-law and the third POV is Yeong-hye's sister, Kim In-hye. Both of the two perspective follows the aftermath of Yeong-hye's vegetarianism. I don't really have a particular favorite POV because I just think there is a balance of what I like about certain perspective and what I don't like about certain perspective. 
The pain feels like a hole swallowing her up, a source of intense fear and yet, at the same time, a strange, quiet peace.
In terms of pacing, for a book that's less than 200 pages you'd think that you'd be able to finish this rather quickly, though some might finish this book quickly. I on the other hand thinks that this is the kind of book you need to read slowly and absorb every words because this book is very slow-paced and the writing is very detailed, so attention is key in reading this book. Also, this is a very thought-provoking book. Whilst reading this book I have some opinions that I really want to discuss to other readers who've read this book, and also this book opened up my eyes about some Korean way of thinking, like for instance how in this book the people around Yeong-hye actually don't like that she is a vegetarian and just won't accept that she's a vegetarian. I mean I don't know why vegetarianism is frowned upon by these people in this book.
This was the body of a beautiful young woman, conventionally an object of desire, and yet it was a body from which all desire had been eliminated. But this was nothing so crass as carnal desire, not for her—rather, or so it seemed, what she had renounced was the very life that her body represented.
This book taught me that sometimes people (myself included) can judge others harshly about the choices they made without fully realizing and understanding their reasoning. We sometimes force our own opinion on others that we view as the righteous one, without truly accepting what others have to say. Until the very end this book still confuses me, I was about to rate it 2 stars but then to say this book was just OK is wrong. I gave it 3 stars because I did actually liked it and it did kept me thinking even though I've finished it, but to give it more stars than that would not be right.

The thing that confuses me was how the story wrapped up, it didn't give me a definite, resolute, clear ending that I needed. So here I am left with questions that is unanswered by this book, but then I started thinking, perhaps this is the kind of effect the author wants. Perhaps the author wants us to form our own conclusion of the story how we see fit (heck, I could be totally wrong, but I think after reading this book people will have different opinions of it).

That's all for now!


  1. blogwalking eh isinya bahasa inggris, buka google translatelah tuh, ini genrenya horor ya

    salam dari medan

    1. Salam juga! Umm menurutku bukan horror sih lebih ke mystery gitu kayaknya yang lebih pas


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