The Vegetarian

This is another book that was not a personal choice of mine. Me and a group of friends initially met at a book club and proceeded to create our own. That was a year and a half ago… We haven’t discussed a shared book for over a year. We wanted to correct that and this was the first choice. It is a very good Book Club choice, lots of discussion points and many controversial events occur that can be dissected. But as for a good choice of a general read? I’m not convinced.

The Vegetarian is not a book primarily about vegetarianism as I first thought when I picked it up. And when I read the blurb… It is the story of a woman in South Korea who has lead a perfectly normal life, with a perfectly normal husband who suddenly turns vegetarian one day. Something that is not the norm or common at all in South Korea (at least according to this story). The story is told from three different viewpoints and none from the main characters narrative. It is the people around her that  tell us her story. I feel as though I shouldn’t discuss what the main theme of the book is, as I thought it was a better experience for me not knowing. But suffice to say, it isn’t primarily about her becoming a vegetarian…

I feel as though I have to say first off, that this is a translated work from Korean and it is done beautifully. I don’t often read translated works and speak only English (something I hate to admit) so I am by far an expert in the issues of translation, especially in literature but I do know that this is done well. You get the tone of the book through the language and can only assume that it echoes the original. The language is gorgeous and it is so well written. Both due to the author (Han Kang) and the translator (Deborah Smith). Fantastic job.

This is a gritty read. A lot of unpleasant things are discussed or happen that actually made me uncomfortable. I am an escapist reader and find these kinds of novels really difficult to relax into. I guess the point isn’t that you relax into them but you absorb them. The point is that I did not take to this kind of gritty and disturbing narrative. It was all a little too “real” for me personally. I mean, there is a reason why  I adore fantasy novels…

Some of the events made me extremely angry and I felt so annoyed with the culture that it presented (not to confuse it with South Korean culture itself, I do not know enough of it to take the representation here as law) and the way family act. It was a very educational read in the respect of people and their reactions of things, something which was not pleasant or comforting…I did really enjoy the different perspectives. I thought it really clever how we never got Yeong-hye’s perspective and that the different people’s reactions and attitudes to her where so diverse in different ways. It was well done.

This novel is brilliant in it’s special kind of way. It is a great piece of literature and I do think that the translation is incredible. Yet it was just too gritty and disturbing for me. Not what I expected at all. It was a rather hard read for me and I don’t think I will read it again. If you like something that will touch you, disturb you, fascinate and what not, then have a go at it. For me… not quite my cup of tea (the perfect analogy for someone who adores tea like me).

This was a work of art, but just not the kind of art that I particularly enjoy.


The Vegetarian by Han Kang



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