Author: Han Kang
Translated by: Deborah Smith
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Blurb (as on Amazon.in):
Yeong Hye 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 flat line of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong Hye’ s decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister’s husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – A tree. Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.Winner of the Man’s Booker Prize, 2016, ‘The Vegetarian’ is intense, agonizing, and heart-wrenching.
I love books that leave you wanting for more. And this is one such scary-as-hell book. I don’t mean horror as in ghosts and creepy stuff but the things it does to your mind and soul. This book is so much more than the title or the blurb.
“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.”
Turning into a Vegetarian is just the beginning of a devastating path that Yeong-Hye creates for herself and all of it – because of something she dreamt. A dream which makes no sense, even to herself. She is tossed around like a piece of furniture because people around her can’t relate to her thoughts or actions.
“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.”
But this strange hatred towards meat is just an example. Her sister feels the same kind of detachment toward the end of the book and she tries so hard to come out of it.
There are a lot of things the plot tries to convey but the focus is mostly around mental health, the emotions that are bottled up in one’s heart and the things it can do to people over a period of time. The plot talks about shame, acceptance, pain, and pleasure as elements that are all intertwined with each other and hold the power to change one’s life.
The plot has elements which are bizarre, yet practically possible. One such event is the fascination a male character has towards a certain Mongolian mark that is present on his sister-in-law’s butt. He finds himself aroused at the mere thought of that mark and his creative juices start flowing like never before. He tries to confront his thoughts and feelings and ends up losing everything.
Han Kang has written the plot in such a free-flowing, casual manner, yet managed to give attention to every single detail. The characters are exceptionally written, especially the men. Their thoughts and mental turmoils have been penned down in a way that we get to know the characters in a more personal, delicate way. The plot keeps you guessing and takes turns that is unpredictable and surprisingly satisfying.
“Look, sister, I’m doing a handstand; leaves are growing out of my body, roots are sprouting out of my hands…they delve down into the earth. Endlessly, endlessly…yes, I spread my legs because I wanted flowers to bloom from my crotch; I spread them wide…”
The Vegetarian is the kind of book that makes a place in your mind and you spend hours creating alternate plots or trying to predict what might happen to the characters and the plot. The Vegetarian has occupied two of the most important shelves – “must read” and “favorites”. Han Kang makes it to my ‘obsess-over-this-author’ list.
This is one book I would recommend my readers to read. Maybe Someday, but read it.