What does one write about a novel which has won the Man Booker International Prize 2016? Nothing much, rather just ask you to definitely read it and figure it out for yourself. If you love reading books that grips you from the very first page, startles, and shakes you up until the end, then Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian’ is for you. It is a story of how seemingly innocuous decisions can affect lives those around us. A world where women’s bodies are scrutinized, the protagonist desires to disappear within herself is a very familiar feeling.
‘The Vegetarian’ is a novella, divided into 3 parts. The first part centers on Yeong-hye, a housewife in South Korea. This part is narrated from the point of view of her husband, his wife after a series of vivid dreams decides to become a vegetarian, as she is repulsed with the thought of consuming meat anymore. This results in deep differences creeping up in their marriage, both inside her home, and in the society, she lives in. In the second part an aspiring visual video artist who is Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law, narrates his story which centers on sexual and artistic deviation in a very traditional society. Finally, the third part takes forward the novella from the point of view of Yeong-hye’s sister. She describes how she comes to grip with the result of her sister's decision on her marriage. In addition, how her relationship changes with her parents, her husband and ultimately her sister. The stories talk of the price one pays by conforming to pre-existing views on cultural and societal norms that represses greater self-expression and identity.
‘The Vegetarian’ seems to be very personal and intimate on the surface yet the Korean author Han Kang addresses broader societal issues. The novel gets your thoughts running and it helps that it is beautifully written and translated. I wish all of you read it, so that we can talk about it and more specifically, try to figure out the ending. Highly recommended.