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The Vegetarian Paperback – August 23, 2016
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“Ferocious...[Han Kang] has been rightfully celebrated as a visionary in South Korea… Han’s glorious treatments of agency, personal choice, submission and subversion find form in the parable. There is something about short literary forms – this novel is under 200 pages – in which the allegorical and the violent gain special potency from their small packages... Ultimately, though, how could we not go back to Kafka? More than ‘The Metamorphosis,’ Kafka’s journals and ‘A Hunger Artist’ haunt this text.” —Porochista Khakpour, New York Times Book Review
“Astonishing...Kang viscerally explores the limits of what a human brain and body can endure, and the strange beauty that can be found in even the most extreme forms of renunciation.” —Entertainment Weekly
"Sometimes how a book or a film puzzles you—how it may mystify even its own creator—is the main point. The way it keeps slithering out of your grasp. The way it chats with you in the parlor even as it drags something nameless and heavy through the woods out back….That’s the spirit in which to approach The Vegetarian… The Vegetarian has an eerie universality that gets under your skin and stays put irrespective of nation or gender.”—Laura Miller, Slate.com
“This book is both terrifying and terrific.”—Lauren Groff
"The Vegetarian was slim and spiky and extremely disturbing, and I find myself thinking about it weeks after I finished." Jennifer Weiner, popsugar.com
“The Vegetarian is one of the best novels I’ve read in years. It’s incredible, daring, and stunningly moving. I loved it.”—Laura van den Berg
"A short novel of sexuality and madness that deserves its great success.”—Ian McEwan
“If it's true you are what you read, prepare to be sliced and severed, painted and slapped and fondled and broken to bits, left shocked and reeling on the other side of this stunning, dark star of a book.”—Amelia Gray
“It takes a gifted storyteller to get you feeling ill at ease in your own body. Yet Han Kang often set me squirming with her first novel in English, at once claustrophobic and transcendent… Yeong-hye’s compulsions feel more like a force of nature… A sea like that, rippling with unknowable shadow, looks all but impossible to navigate—but I’d let Han Kang take the helm any time.”—Chicago Tribune
“Provocative...shocking.”—The Washington Post
"[An] utterly deserving winner of this year's Man Booker International Prize...with haunting, almost hallucinatory beauty."—Entertainment Weekly, Best Books of 2016 so far
“This is a deceptive novel, its canvas much larger than the mild social satire that one initially imagines. Kang has bigger issues to raise… The matter of female autonomy assumes urgency and poignancy.”—The Boston Globe
"Compelling...[A] seamless union of the visceral and the surreal.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
"Indebted to Kafka, this story of a South Korean woman's radical transformation, which begins after she forsakes meat, will have you reading with your hand over your mouth in shock." —O, the Oprah Magazine
“If you love books that grab you by the throat and keep you wide-eyed and shocked throughout, you’ve got to pick up Han Kang’s The Vegetarian.”—EW.com
"A complex, terrifying look at how seemingly simple decisions can affect multiple lives...In a world where women’s bodies are constantly under scrutiny, the protagonist’s desire to disappear inside of herself feels scarily familiar."—VanityFair.com
"A sharply written allegory that extends far beyond its surreal premise to unexpected depths.”—The Millions
“Visceral and hypnotic.”—Michele Filgate
“An elegant tale, in three parts, of a woman whose sudden turn to veganism disrupts her family and exposes the worst human appetites and impulses… [a] stripped-down, thoughtful narrative… about human psychology and physiology.”—Huffington Post
"Adventurous readers will be blown away by Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, in which a once-submissive Korean wife’s compulsion to stop eating meat spirals out of control. This moving story engages complicated questions about desire, guilt, obligation and madness.”—MORE Magazine
“This elegant-yet-twisted horror story is all about power and its relationship with identity. It's chilling in the best ways, so buckle in and turn down the lights.”—Elle.com
“The Vegetarian is the first—there will be more, let’s hope—of Han Kang’s novels to arrive in the United States…The style is realistic and psychological, and denies us the comfort that might be wrung from a fairy tale or a myth of metamorphosis. We all like to read about girls swapping their fish tails for legs or their unwrinkled arms for branches, but—at the risk of stating the obvious—a person cannot become a potted bit of green foodstuff. That Yeong-hye seems not to know this makes her dangerous, and doomed.”—Harper’s Magazine
“This haunting, original tale explores the eros, isolation and outer limits of a gripping metamorphosis that happens in plain sight… Han Kang has written a remarkable novel with universal themes about isolation, obsession, duty and desire.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Complex and strange...Han's prose moves swiftly, riveted on the scene unfolding in a way that makes this story compulsively readable...this is a book that demands you to ask important questions, and its vivid images will be hard to shake. This is a book that will stay with you."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Brutally yet beautifully explores the gap between one person’s expression and another’s reception.”—Harvard Crimson
"The Vegetarian is incredibly fresh and gripping, due in large part to the unforgettable narrative structure... Han Kang has created a multi-leveled, well-crafted story that does what all great stories do: immediately connects the unique situation within these pages to the often painful experience of living."—The Rumpus
“Disquieting, thought-provoking and precisely informed.” —Shelf Awareness
“A horror story in its depiction of the unknowability of others—of the sudden feeling that you've never actually known someone close to you….Its three-part structure is brilliant, gradually digging deeper and deeper into darker and darker places; the writing is spare and haunting; but perhaps most memorable is its crushing climax, a phantasmagoric yet emotionally true moment that's surely one of the year's most powerful. This is an ingenious, upsetting, and unforgettable novel.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"[A] spare, spectacular novel...Family dysfunction amid cultural suffocation is presented with elegant precision, transforming readers into complicit voyeurs. Fans of authors as diverse as Mary Karr and Haruki Murakami won't be able to turn away."—Library Journal (starred review)
“Korean writer Han Kang’s elegant yet unsettling prose conveys her protagonist’s brother-in-law’s obsessive, art-centered lust; her sister’s tepid, regret-riddled existence; and Yeong-hye’s vivid, disturbing dreams… Readers will want more of the author’s shocking portrayals of our innermost doubts, beliefs, and longings.”—Booklist
“[A] beautiful and disquieting new novel...concise and swift, its language often almost poetic...haunting.” —Bookpage
"The book insists on a reader’s attention, with an almost hypnotically serene atmosphere interrupted by surreal images and frighteningly recognizable moments of ordinary despair. Han writes convincingly of the disruptive power of longing and the choice to either embrace or deny it, using details that are nearly fantastical in their strangeness to cut to the heart of the very human experience of discovering that one is no longer content with life as it is. An unusual and mesmerizing novel, gracefully written and deeply disturbing."—Kirkus
"Searing...[Yeong-hye's] extreme efforts to separate herself from her animal appetites reveal the sanity and normality of those closest to her to be mere matchstick houses."—Helen Oyeyemi, author of Boy, Snow, Bird
"Suffused with a sensibility that evokes the matter-of-fact surrealism of Franz Kafka, featuring a female protagonist as engagingly perverse as Melville’s Bartleby, Han Kang’s slender but robust novel addresses many vital matters—from the politics of gender to the presumptions of the male gaze, the conundrum of free will to the hegemony of meat—with a dark élan that vegetarians and carnivores alike will find hypnotic, erotic, disquieting, and wise.—James Morrow, author of Galápagos Regained
"A strange, painfully tender exploration of the brutality of desire indulged and the fatality of desire ignored, rendered all the more so by Deborah Smith's exquisite translation."—Eimear McBride, Baileys Women's Prize-winning author of A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing
"Visceral and terrifying, The Vegetarian is a startling reminder of the utter unknowability of another's mind. Nonetheless, reading it, you will feel it in your flesh: the desire for peace, a plea for safety, for escape from your own inevitable mortality. It is artfully plotted yet reads like a fever dream, sweeping and surreal. It will leave you aching."—Sarah Gerard, author of Binary Star
"Like a small seed, Han Kang’s startling and unforgettable debut goes to work quietly, but insistently. Her prose is so balanced, so elegant and assured, you might overlook the depths of this novel’s darkness—do so at your own peril."—Colin Winnette, author of Haints Stay and Coyote
"The Vegetarian is a story about metamorphosis, rage and the desire for another sort of life. It is written in cool, still, poetic but matter-of-fact short sentences, translated luminously by Deborah Smith, who is obviously a genius."—Deborah Levy, author of The Unloved and Swimming Home
"The Vegetarian is hypnotically strange, sad, beautiful and compelling. I liked it immensely."—Nathan Filer, 2013 Costa First Novel award-winning author of The Shock of the Fall
"A stunning and beautifully haunting novel. It seems in places as if the very words on the page are photosynthesising. I loved this graceful, vivid book."—Jess Richards, Costa First Novel Award shortlisted author of Snake Ropes
"Poetic and beguiling, and translated with tremendous elegance, The Vegetarian exhilarates and disturbs."—Chloe Aridjis, author of The Book of Clouds
“Dark dreams, simmering tensions, chilling violence…This South Korean novel is a feast…It is sensual, provocative and violent, ripe with potent images, startling colors and disturbing questions…Sentence by sentence, The Vegetarian is an extraordinary experience… [It] will be hard to beat.”—The Guardian
"This is an odd and enthralling novel; its story filled with nihilism but lyricism too, its writing understated even in its most fevered, violent moments. It has a surreal and spellbinding quality, especially in its passage on nature and the physical landscape, so beautiful and so magnificently impervious to the human suffering around it."—Arifa Akbar, The Independent
“This short novel is one of the most startling I have read… Exciting and imaginative…The author reveals how nature, sex and art crash through this polite society…It is the women who are killed for daring to establish their own identity. The narrative makes it clear it is the crushing pressure of Korean etiquette which murders them…[A] disturbing book.”—Julia Pascal, The Independent
"Immediately absorbing...The different perspectives offered are so beautifully distinctive...Every word matters."—Sunday Herald
"Shocking...The writing throughout is precise and spare, with not a word wasted. There are no tricks. Han holds the reader in a vice grip...The Vegetarian quickly settles into a dark, menacing brilliance that is similar to the work of the gifted Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa in its devastating study of psychological pain...The Vegetarian is more than a cautionary tale about the brutal treatment of women: it is a meditation on suffering and grief. It is about escape and how a dreamer takes flight. Most of all, it is about the emptiness and rage of discovering there is nothing to be done when all hope and comfort fails....A work of savage beauty and unnerving physicality."—Irish Times
“The Vegetarian is a book about the failures of language and the mysteries of the physical. Yet its message should not undermine Han’s achievement as a writer. Like its anti-protagonist, The Vegetarian whispers so clearly, it can be heard across the room, insistently and with devastating, quiet violence.”—Joanna Walsh, The New Statesman
“[A] strange and ethereal fable, rendered stranger still by the cool precision of the prose… What is ultimately most troubling about Yeong-hye’s post-human fantasies is that they appear to be a reasonable alternative to the world of repression and denial in which everyone around her exists.”—Times Literary Supplement
"The Vegetarian is so strange and vivid it left me breathless upon finishing it. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel as mouth-wateringly poetic, or as drenched in hypnotic oddities, taboos and scandal. It seems to have been plucked out of the ether, ready-made to take us all by surprise. Exciting and compelling"—Lee Rourke, New Humanist
"The Vegetarian combines human violence and the possibility of innocence...[A] frightening beauty of a novel." -British Council Literature
"Kang belongs to a generation of writers that aim to discover secret drives, ambitions, and miseries behind one's personal destiny...[The Vegetarian] deals with violence, sanity, cultural limits, and the value of the human body as the last refuge and private space." -Tiempo Argentino
"[A] bloodcurdlingly beautiful, sinister story."—Linda
"The almost perverse seduction of this book originates in the poetry of the images. They are violently erotic and rather nightmarish; the novel is like a room full of large flowers, where the musky odour takes you by the throat."—De groene Amsterdammer
"For the fans of Haruki Murakami."—Gazet van Antwerpen (starred review)
"Piercing... I was touched the most by the directness, the images, the poignant phrases and most of all the imagination with which it was written."—nrc Handelsblad
"A shocking, moving and thought-provoking novel."—Trouw
"One of the most impressive novels I have read recently... You need to read this book."—Arnon Grunberg in De Volkskrant
"The Vegetarian is exciting and original."—De Standaard der Letteren (starred review)
About the Author
- Item Weight : 7.2 ounces
- Paperback : 208 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781101906118
- ISBN-13 : 978-1101906118
- Product Dimensions : 5.19 x 0.57 x 8 inches
- Publisher : Hogarth; Reprint edition (August 23, 2016)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 1101906111
- Best Sellers Rank: #20,346 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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At a family gathering some time after she makes her decision, they try to force her to eat meat. Her brutal father slaps her twice and forces a piece of meat between her lips, but Yeong-hye manages to spit it out and then grabs a knife and slits her wrist. As her blood spurts out, the only one who comes to her aid is her brother-in-law, while her parents, her husband, sister, brother, and sister-in-law look on. What is wrong with these people? Well, a lot, apparently.
We learn about it all from three different sources: the odious husband, the brother-in-law, and, finally, the sister.
The husband's tale starts with his description of his impressions on meeting the woman who was to become his wife. To say his was underwhelmed would be an understatement. To be fair, his description of himself is just as unflattering. I laughed out loud at the husband's sardonic depictions of the two of them, but it was the only time in the book that I felt any inclination toward jocularity.
As his wife of five years makes her decision to become a vegetarian, all the husband can think about is how this affects him and what his employer and their acquaintances will think. He is totally self-absorbed.
The brother-in-law becomes obsessed with Yeong-hye after the incident at the family gathering. He is an artist. His medium is videos and he becomes consumed by the idea of featuring his sister-in-law's naked body in his videos. He wants to paint flowers on her body and film her. She agrees to this. His fixation then moves on to filming her having sex. He persuades a fellow artist to allow him to paint flowers on his body and to be Yeong-hye's partner, but when it comes to the point of actually engaging in sex, the partner backs out. The brother-in-law then takes over - which is what he wanted to do all along - and videotapes himself having sex with her. The sister discovers them together.
The last section of the book is the sister's tale and there we learn some of Yeong-hye's back story. We learn, for example, that she was an abused child. She was the middle child with her older sister and younger brother, and her father took out his rage on her. Her sister feels guilty that she did not do more to protect her or support her.
Through the sister's eyes, we see Yeong-hye descending from a healthy vegetarianism into anorexia. She goes from refusing to eat meat to, finally, refusing to eat, period. She is diagnosed with a mental illness and hospitalized. Her husband divorces her. Her parents and brother abandon her. The only one who stands by her in the end is her sister.
Yeong-hye is slowly starving herself to death, even as her sister tries to pull her back and persuade her to eat. She dreams of transforming herself into a tree. Finally, she asks her sister who is trying to persuade her to live, "Why, is it such a bad thing to die?"
In Korean society, where societal mores are expected to be strictly obeyed, her decision to become a vegetarian and live a more plant-based life is seen as an act of subversion. This disturbing novel should evidently be read as an allegory about modern life in Korea, and about obsession and the choices we make, as well as our stumbling attempts to try to understand each other. This is an impressive bit of story-telling by a very talented writer.
Just a note also about the translator: I read this book in English and it was a thoroughly lithe and graceful translation. The translator was Deborah Smith and she, too, is an artist.
The story is told from 3 points of view, husband, brother-in-law and sister. Their focus is Yeong-hye, a woman who one has a bad dream and decides from that day forward she will no longer eat meat or wear anything animal related. This is not just about food, it's about culture, male domination, abuse, freedom and so much more. It's about a woman who finally must fight the evils of those surrounding her, in order to be heard, to become her own person, move forward from her past and it's not an easy process by any means.
There are disturbing acts in this book, you may like me, dislike the characters, in particular Yeong-hye's selfish, uncaring husband and her brother-in-law who takes advantage of her instability. This is not a book you can read once. It's definitely something that will need to be read multiple times to complete understand everything.
Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would I recommend it? Yes, but only for those who can read this with an open mind. This is a translated work so sometimes the story was a little off but while it's a short book, you need to take your time with it.
Top reviews from other countries
There is so much going on in this book, so much that is unsaid, so much that is left for the reader to decide. It is a book about men and women—men using women to further their own goals. It is a book about families breaking apart and coming together. It is a book about human connection and the lack thereof.
It is a book about mental health, about a descent into madness. There is a dreamlike quality to it, but the language is precise and objective (often reminding me of Hilary Mantel or Angel Carter). As one of the characters seems to lose her grip on reality, readers find themselves more and more grounded in reality. Strangely, this is unsettling rather than reassuring.
The Vegetarian is beautiful and sad, exquisite and gut-wrenching, terrifying and ultimately redemptive. It is one of those books that will come back to me in those strange moments when images from books I've weave themselves into the threads of my wandering thoughts.
Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.
First of all, I have to admit that at first I just didn't get this book. It was disturbing enough that I kept reading but it wasn't what I was expecting at all and when I put the book down I was very confused. It wasn't until after I had done a bit of research and read about what Han Kang was trying to get at that I really began to appreciate all the themes in this story. You're not supposed to understand everything that happens here and if you go looking for a "right" answer to everything then you've missed the point entirely.
Told from three different perspectives, we see Yeong-hye descend into a sort of quiet madness through the eyes of her husband, her best friend and said friend's husband. Each chapter is very distinct and we get a glimpse at the inner workings of this family that once seemed "normal" from the outside. Kang shows us how our inner demons can haunt us and what happens when they finally break loose. There's conflict between father and daughter, husband and wife, sister and sister. Through these relationships and conflicts we are given a glimpse into Korean culture. Of course, this book is not representative of all Korean culture (I would be pretty worried if it did), but it certainly makes you aware of some of the stark cultural differences between the East and the West. Being half Chinese myself, I can imagine that turning vegetarian could actually have such a huge impact on your family.
The plot seems a little surreal at times and the writing can be rather abstract. The imagery is disturbing and yet beautiful all at once. Kang weaves together these two notions, completely captivating the reader and compelling you to read on even though alarm bells are ringing at the back of your brain. Reading The Vegetarian almost brings you into a trance-like state, much like the leading character herself, Yeong-hye.
Finally, I must say that The Vegetarian isn't for the faint hearted or the squeamish. Whilst I wouldn't go quite so far as to say there are "gory" parts, there were a couple of passages that made my stomach squirm. Make no mistake, this story isn't the happy story of how a woman moved towards a plant based diet - it is dark, it is disturbing, it is distressing. Kang's description of the protagonist through the eyes of her narrators is frighteningly compelling and it's certainly not a book I'll be forgetting anytime soon.
It is split into three parts. In the first a Korean business man tells of his wife becoming a vegetarian. He is a man without empathy for his wife in a marriage of convenience. That is all she is to him, his wife, and his only concern as she spirals towards anorexia is that she is no longer fulfilling the role of being his wife in his professional life.
The second section is written in the third person, from the viewpoint of a rich, spoilt artist who never grew up and who is obsessed by his sister in law, or more specifically, her birth mark. He is desperate to paint on her naked body. The sister in law onto whom he is literally projecting his desires is the wife of the first section, who along the way we have learned is called Yeong-hye.
In the final section, again told in the third person, the artist's ex-wife, In-hye, visits her sister in a mental institution, where she is deep within a form of anorexia, and reflects on her own life in the mirror of Yeong-hye.
The vegetarian is about a lot of things, it is about the place of and expectations placed on women in a male dominated society. It is about the roles demanded of women by that society. It is a book which is both extremely direct in its imagery, the artist painting on the canvas of Yeong-hye's body, and extremely obscure. I still don't think I've fully grasped everything that author Han Kang is saying.
I started by saying that this isn't a pleasant book,but it is utterly gripping, fiercely intelligent, deeply challenging, and highly rewarding.
The book is in three chapters, that make nice short stories (in fact, it was originally published as three novellas in Korea). The middle story was a little esoteric, but made more sense in the context of the third chapter.
The translation is really good, I think I picked up on one or two phrases that were a bit odd, but by no means distracting from the horrific story.
The story isn't predictable, and I was riveted right until the last page. It's disturbing, and I'm really pleased I forked out and paid for what is one of the more expensive books on kindle.