‘The Vegetarian’ by Han Kang

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Where to start with this book? I’m not sure how I can write a review that will do it justice. The Vegetarian is set in South Korea, and it follows the story of Yeong-hye, a dutiful housewife who adopts a vegetarian diet after she starts to have violent dreams. This decision shocks everyone around her, as in Korea vegetarianism is nowhere near as common as it is in the west. From there, things gradually get darker.

The novel is split into three parts, each one from the perspective of a different character. Interestingly, none of them are told from Yeong-hye’s point of view. Whilst I liked the first part, which is told through her detached husband’s eyes, I only started to feel really emotionally invested during the second one, when things took a much darker turn.

It’s been ages since I read a book that had such a powerful effect on me. From a very young age I’ve always hated meat, so have been vegetarian for pretty much my whole life, even going vegan for about a year at one point. I have a fairly troubled relationship with food in general: several years ago I stopped eating and consequently become very underweight, and although I’ve gained weight since then my view of my own body hasn’t improved. Although Yeong-hye loses weight due to her lack of proper nutrition and not because of a troubled body image, certain parts of the book felt very personal. I know my opinion will be a bit skewed, but I think that even if you haven’t had experience with the issues in the book it will still resonate with you.

Han Kang’s writing is excellent throughout. She manages to maintain an almost objective tone, yet still draws the reader in emotionally. The book’s descriptions are amazing as well, conjuring up beautiful, disturbing images which are certain to stick with you even after you’ve finished.

I would recommend The Vegetarian to everyone (trigger warning, though, as it does contain some pretty strong stuff). Do yourself a favour and read it; it will change how you see the world.

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