Book Review: The Vegetarian-Han Kang

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There’s nothing wrong with keeping quiet; after all, hadn’t women traditionally been expected to be demure and restrained?

This mentality that women are meant to be seen and not heard is often portrayed in our society. Women continue to push for freedom of mind, body, speech. While we fight for a chance to be released form societal pressure, that barrier that is wedged between constantly pushes us back. Although in our modern world women publicly  have a strong voice, it is in the quiet moments that the world doesn’t see where women often struggle. Whether through marriage or family, women continue to fight through the quiet storm that goes unseen to the public eye. Han Kang  a famous South Korean novelist has written a barring story of a woman who struggles with her freedom of choice. When Yeong-hye decides to become a vegetarian, everyone seems to want to have a say in her dietary needs except her. The Vegetarian is nominated for the Man Booker Prize International 2016. Han Kang comes from a family of novelists as her father was a writer as well. As the The Vegetarian is on the long list for the Man Booker, I’m hoping it pulls its weight and makes it to the short list which will be revealed later in the month.

People are always telling me to eat…I don’t like eating; they force me….I really don’t like them…please let me out. I don’t like being here.

The story on the surface is quite simple: one day a women, Yeong-hye, decides to become a vegetarian due to a dream she has. Her family reacts to her decision in a not so accepting way and eventually forces her to eat meat in a rather violent and torturous way. Young-hye is described as simple and un-ornamented . Neither pretty or ugly and “jaundiced, sickly-looking skin.” The muted nature of Yeong-hye makes her husband think she is easily maneuverable. However Yeong-hye’s  rebellion of all things that hold her back come out in her loudest voice-refusing to eat meat.In a culture where meat is an essential part of life, her family and husband cannot understand her refusal. Eventually Yeong-Hye is driven to point of no return, trapped in a world that doesn’t allow her to breathe. This novel is so much more than about being a vegetarian. Kang strikes at problematic issues occurring not only in South Korea, but all over the world for women. This book is a masterpiece that needs unfolding slowly.

I need to water my body. I don’t need this kind of food, sister. I need water.

Han Kang did it. She created a timeless and important piece of art, that will go in my personal feminist literary cannon. This a book you can teach from, as there are so many literary device embedded in The Vegetarian. The book is short (183 pages), but it takes a long while to digest and will sit in your mind indefinitely. Living in South Korea myself, I am able to see some of the culture differences between the West and East. However, I think Han Kang stretches the line with this one, and reaches over and across cultures to say something important about women. The pacing of the novel is neither slow or fast, but captivates you in a way that makes you stick to turning pages until you are finished. The idea of control and using food to control our bodies in a manipulative way is illuminated by Kang. Yeong-hye feel restricted by almost everything in her life, and so she takes the one thing she can control physically, and that is eating. I could write pages upon pages about this book, but I’ll spare you the length. I’ve given this novel five stars on Goodreads and would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who has ears to listen. Inspiring and profound.

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