Genre: Horror, Korean Lit,
Synopsis: After an unsettling nightmare, Yeong-hye decides to stop eating meat. This one act of defiance and control sets forth a chain of events. Her family does not understand her newfound dislike of meat and try to subject her to grotesque acts of meat-eating, and attempt and succeed in getting checked into a psych ward. Through her husband’s, brother-in-law’s, and sister’s points of view, we follow Yeong-hye’s Kafka-esque journey of accepting herself as a part of nature.
Review: Once I had finished the first section of this book, I knew that this book would land a place on my favorites bookshelf. Just so you all know up front, there are content warnings for violence, sexual assault, and eating disorders. Nonetheless, this book fits into the horror genre in my opinion, and I’m a lover of horror, so I was able to delve into this book without being too disturbed. And, that being said, this book was very disturbing.
I’ll be up front and honest with y’all: I’m vegan, so the first section of the book was actually very hard for me to read. When Yeong-hye begins to reject meat and other animal products from her diet and lifestyle, her husband’s coworkers and her family neither understand nor respect her decision. In the end, her husband lies about her reasoning for choosing to forego meat, and she is subject to both micro- and macro-aggressions from her family and husband’s coworkers. While I am thankful to say that I’ve never experienced such macro-aggressions, I must also say that it was easy for me to identify with Yeong-hye at the beginning of this novel. Her husband picks fights about her decision, dismisses her feelings, and seems to make an effort to not understand her reasoning. My stomach churned when I was reading this part, and I could feel myself getting angry when the coworkers laughed and stared at her. Han Kang did such a phenomenal job at this. I could feel Yeong-hye’s emotions, and the story is not even from her perspective.
But, personal reasons aside, this work is truly deserving of the Man Booker International Prize. It’s a magnificent piece of literature that leaves you entranced with the main character, up until the very end of the novel. It’s poetic, descriptive, and reminiscent of Kafka. In all honesty, The Vegetarian is a work of art.