Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Haunting Dreams of The Vegetarian

Hang Kang's The Vegetarian has received significant attention from Western readers for a translated book. Kang won the Man Booker International Prize, was one of the New York Times Best Books of 2016, and made the long list for this year's Tournament of Books. I took a while to finally pick up this short book, and after a three day entrancement with Kang's beautiful prose I can say that the praise is all deserved.

Kang's novel follows Yeong-hye, a recently wed wife to a business man, who after a disturbing dream decides to abandon the eating of meat, emptying the fridge of all animal products, driven by disgust of the thought of eating another bite. All those around her, husband, sister, parents, are outraged by her rejection of meat, questioning her sanity, abusively scolding her and insisting that she abandon her vegetarianism. Violently rejecting her choice, a huge family fight results in her father force feeding a morsel of meat to her, with Yeong-hye responding by slitting her wrists.

Told in three parts, from the perspective of her husband, brother-in-law, and sister, Kang beautifully shows us how Yeong-hye's choice of vegetarianism is met with violence that provokes her to spin into mental decline.

As a reader I was captivated by every word. Kang's prose is simple yet lyrical, allowing the reader's eyes to swiftly drift from page to page, caught up in Yeong-hye's tumultuous and tragic journey. So much is being said through Kang's quiet style, about the plight of women in South Korean society, about the reactions society has toward unconventional behaviour, about how we are quick the clinically diagnose the abnormal.

A wonderful and accessible book that will leave the reader feeling satisfied but distraught.

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