Sean Barrs the Bookdragon's Reviews > The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian by Han Kang
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This book wasn’t a casual read for me. This is deeply personal to my own beliefs. I’m a vegan. This book sung a song that I heard in my marrow; it made me realise so much.

As a vegan I’ve experienced some of the things that I witnessed here. I can relate to it. I’ve lived it. I’ve been called a heretic. I’ve lost friends over it, and experienced much social awkwardness just for my lifestyle choice. I’m not pushy with my beliefs. Sometimes all it takes is a mention of the word “vegetarian” to be received with utter hostility or blankness. This review isn’t about the ethics involved with the diet. That’s not important to this story. What’s important is how people can react to someone different to themselves. The vegetarian in here acts as a metaphor for individual life choices.

“I was convinced that there was more going on here than a simple case of vegetarianism.”

For “the vegetarian,” being different to the world leads to social isolation and feelings of utter despair. Her husband is utterly useless in every regard. He is the sort of man who simply doesn’t deserve a wife. This no equal partnership, but the wife living to serve the man’s needs. It’s all about finding the right people, the accepting people in society. And this comes far too late and in far too a meek form to have any lasting effect on her: it came when she was already lost. The self-destructive behaviour isn’t testimony to a vegetarian diet. I speak from experience, these can be very healthy. It’s an act of rebellion against a society that refused to be warm to someone who didn’t conform.

“the sight of her lying there utterly without resistance, yet armored by the power of her own renunciation, was so intense as to bring tears to his eyes.”

But, this is only the premise of the novel. It’s also about sexual desire, the unwavering power of lust and sheer emotional enthralment. However, it’s not about the body as an object of sexual desire; it’s not about the attractiveness, or the unattractiveness, of the female or male form; that’s just meat: it’s about the power of the individual: it’s about the power of an idealistic free spirit. And this is what drew me to the book. The lust in here is freedom. It is the ability to make one’s own life choice and live in harmony with the rest of the world. Labels don’t matter. Restrictions don’t matter. What matters is the freedom to be who you are and what you are. Whether or not this is a vegetarian, homosexual, transgender, a Buddhist Monk or a Christian isn’t overly important. What matters is choice. The vegetarian in here serves as a metaphor, a rallying cry, for a more accepting world. It’s a brutal reminder of the narrowmindedness that infects this planet towards those that fall through the cracks of society.

Some readers may see the exploration of mental illness, though what I see is mental illness born of sheer social isolation and spiritual depravation. If a person belongs nowhere, and those that are supposed to be closest to her ignore her, then only maladaptive thinking can occur. Only detrimental cognitive functioning will be born. What “the Vegetarian” needed in here was someone to understand her individuality and to respect it. Instead the coldness she receives sends her own a downward spiral of delusional fantasy, very poetic fantasy.

This is a book like no other.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
July 22, 2016 – Shelved
July 22, 2016 – Shelved as: 5-star-reads
July 22, 2016 – Shelved as: favourites
July 22, 2016 – Shelved as: man-booker-prize-winners
July 22, 2016 – Shelved as: contemporary-lit
July 22, 2016 – Finished Reading
July 25, 2016 – Shelved as: veganism-and-vegetarianism

Comments Showing 1-50 of 110 (110 new)


message 1: by Sam (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sam Quixote I will turn you into a 90s rom com if you're wrong, Bookworm!


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Sam wrote: "I will turn you into a 90s rom com if you're wrong, Bookworm!"

...please don't! ;)


message 3: by Janie (new)

Janie C. Awesome review, Sean.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Janie wrote: "Awesome review, Sean."

thanks ;)


message 5: by Line (new)

Line Bookaholic I was intrigued about this book but after reading your review I just want to have it right now and read it in one sitting. It seems so interesting! Wonderful review !


message 6: by ✌ Adam (new)

✌ Adam Mendez ✌ Go team vegan!


Roger Brunyate Yes indeed, Sean, a superb review, largely because it is so personal, which enables you to cut through a lot of things that the novel is not about (including, oddly enough, veganism). My daughter and her family are vegan, and we often cook for them and eat that way ourselves, but I am too old to be weaned away from meat!

At what institution do you pursue your EngLit studies? My own (Cambridge) were over half a century ago. R.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Yusra wrote: "This is such a beautiful impassioned review. You've made me want to read this one even more than I did previously. The freedom to make personal choices is a wonderful thing. I'm not a vegan at this..."

Thanks, this book just spoke to me. It's one of those books that will stay with me forever. Definitely something I will revisit in later life. And veganism is great, one of the best decisions I've made in my life! ;)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Line wrote: "I was intrigued about this book but after reading your review I just want to have it right now and read it in one sitting. It seems so interesting! Wonderful review !"

Thanks, it really pulled me in. It's one that can easily be done in a single sitting.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Adam wrote: "Go team vegan!"

Lolz! :)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Roger wrote: "Yes indeed, Sean, a superb review, largely because it is so personal, which enables you to cut through a lot of things that the novel is not about (including, oddly enough, veganism). My daughter a..."

Thanks, I enjoyed your review also. I'm studying at University Centre Peterborough. It's a very small university, but it also means the tutors have more time for students. All in all, it's a great place to study.


message 12: by Kate (new)

Kate Invictus: The Double Face Invisible God

Crime and thriller and mystery book. I recently read it and it just so amazing.


Puneet Gautam Great Review, Sean! I started reading this book after reading your first thoughts about it a couple of days before you wrote this review. It was pretty clear then, even clearer now, that the book has affected you in a very personal way. Well, this is gem of a book - an extremely well though out writing of how individuality and psyche are delicately wound together, how both are so important for a sane existence.


Layla ✷ Praise the sun ✷ Wow, I'm sorry to hear that you've lost friends because you care about living beings. And I loved your review. I'm sold, I have to read this and soon.


message 15: by PorshaJo (new)

PorshaJo Great review Sean! I'm sorry to hear of the problems you encountered being vegan. I can relate as I'm also vegan and experience the same things. I find it baffling that when you just mention that you are vegan, people lash out at you or make snide comments, for no reason. I initially wanted to read this one but thought it might be too much for me. Perhaps I should reconsider.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon LaylaNoir wrote: "Wow, I'm sorry to hear that you've lost friends because you care about living beings. And I loved your review. I'm sold, I have to read this and soon."

Glad to hear it- I hope you like it too. For me, it's become one of my favourites!


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon PorshaJo wrote: "Great review Sean! I'm sorry to hear of the problems you encountered being vegan. I can relate as I'm also vegan and experience the same things. I find it baffling that when you just mention that y..."

YAY! Hello fellow vegan person on goodreads!!!

It's so worth a read. It's very short. I read it in three hours or so. And, I've found, for every five people that act baffled, there's one who is really intrigued. Sometimes it's worth the stigma to find that one.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Puneet wrote: "Great Review, Sean! I started reading this book after reading your first thoughts about it a couple of days before you wrote this review. It was pretty clear then, even clearer now, that the book h..."

thanks- it is a great read ;)


Jessica T. Your review is wonderful... beautiful and eloquent.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Jessica wrote: "Your review is wonderful... beautiful and eloquent."

thanks! ;)


Hegemb I like your review a lot. Most people seem to think this novel(la) is about eating disorders, but I feel it's about a lot more than that. Just as you say in your review. I didn't love this book, but I kind of did anyway, I read it in about three days, and I found myself thinking about it when I wasn't reading it. This is quite rare and proof that it gets under your skin and lingers. This book is somethine else, and I am very glad to have read it.


Jenny (Reading Envy) I have had a similar experience, major social expulsion when I married and then became a vegetarian. And experienced the re-inclusion when I started eating meat again, how people relaxed around me, etc. Add to that the increased societal expectation in Korea for sameness and this gets frightening quickly.


Maria João I bought this book only because of your review. I'm going to start reading it now. Thank you. :)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Maria João wrote: "I bought this book only because of your review. I'm going to start reading it now. Thank you. :)"

Thanks for the comment, I hope you like it too! :)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "I have had a similar experience, major social expulsion when I married and then became a vegetarian. And experienced the re-inclusion when I started eating meat again, how people relaxed around me,..."

People just become hostile. I think the problem is that most people just don't like to have their entire way of life questioned or held in doubt.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Hegemb wrote: "I like your review a lot. Most people seem to think this novel(la) is about eating disorders, but I feel it's about a lot more than that. Just as you say in your review. I didn't love this book, bu..."

This lingered with me too. It's one of those rare books that I can say actually went as far as to change me and help me develop as a person.


Charlotte Great review. I'm a vegan too, and attempted to be a vegetarian diet a few years ago but due to social pressure I gave up. Actually, I experienced a situation similar to the main character as I felt no one could understand me, I kind of started a rebellion that lead me to Anorexia. My point is a decision if not accepted or judged can lead to extreme behavior, then when too deep it's very difficult to revert back. I like your comment about the mental re-born (instead of mental illness), as it it the way humans are feeling when taking strong decision. Thanks for the insight !


message 28: by Watemelon (new) - added it

Watemelon Ugh. Vegans.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Charlotte wrote: "Great review. I'm a vegan too, and attempted to be a vegetarian diet a few years ago but due to social pressure I gave up. Actually, I experienced a situation similar to the main character as I fel..."

No worries. Glad you liked it. This book taught me more than I can express. You have to be you, the real you. Ignore what others think.


message 30: by Tsippora (new)

Tsippora If I'm not vegetarian or vegan, or ever okan to be, would you still recommend this book? I have seen many good reviews about it, but the name makes me not want to pick it up..


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Tsippie wrote: "If I'm not vegetarian or vegan, or ever okan to be, would you still recommend this book? I have seen many good reviews about it, but the name makes me not want to pick it up.."

Most definitely. It’s not about meat eating ethics. Look at it this way, replace the word “vegetarian” with “outsider.” It’s a metaphor for social isolation. It could just as easily be about transgenderism, race or even sexuality. The point is not everyone fits the standard mould in a culture, and how we react can determine their future.

It just hit me harder than most because of my own experience.


message 32: by Tsippora (new)

Tsippora Well that sounds like something I would like to read. Thanks! :)


message 33: by Sofia (new) - added it

Sofia Beautiful review Sean


message 34: by Malia (new)

Malia Wonderful review, Sean! Hope you find plenty more engaging stories to get you out of your slump!!


Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin I loved this book! Beautiful review, Sean! I can understand about the slump :-/


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Melissa wrote: "I loved this book! Beautiful review, Sean! I can understand about the slump :-/"

thanks :)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Malia wrote: "Wonderful review, Sean! Hope you find plenty more engaging stories to get you out of your slump!!"

Cheers :) I will eventually :)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Sofia wrote: "Beautiful review Sean"

Thank you :)


Anne Amazingly succinct review, Sean! :)) I shelved this a while ago but - shame on me - forgot about it(I was even a bit surprised to see that I had added it to my TBR - When? ). Thank you for such a review, and for reminding me that I added this book... and also giving me reasons to really look forward to reading it :)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Anne wrote: "Amazingly succinct review, Sean! :)) I shelved this a while ago but - shame on me - forgot about it(I was even a bit surprised to see that I had added it to my TBR - When? ). Thank you for such a r..."

It's a wonderful book. I might read it again sometime soon. :)


Sabrina Nyuki I'm a vegan too and I think this book gives a bad picture about non-meat eaters. It had a really promising beginning, but the main character ended up on a psychiatric ward and wanted to become a tree. This is not about vegetarianism, this is about patriarchal structures. No good light on the cause.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Sabrina wrote: "I'm a vegan too and I think this book gives a bad picture about non-meat eaters. It had a really promising beginning, but the main character ended up on a psychiatric ward and wanted to become a tr..."

I don't. She need not have been a non-meat eater. She could have been transgender or even homosexual. The point is how detrimental the effects of societies coldness can be to one who is different. The vegetarianism is the mere surface of the book, one that immediately drew me in.


Abhishek Sharma Awesome review @sean! M currently reading this book and can see how beautifully you've described the book.


Elyse Walters Your thought process - tender and real is what moves me most...
plus you've added thoughts for me too associated with this book. Insightful ones. Thanks.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Abhishek wrote: "Awesome review @sean! M currently reading this book and can see how beautifully you've described the book."

thanks :)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Elyse wrote: "Your thought process - tender and real is what moves me most...
plus you've added thoughts for me too associated with this book. Insightful ones. Thanks."


I do love this book :)


Carrieliauw You're right, this book is like no other. I had to put it down after every act because it was weighing heavily on me. I cried several times. It's not about vegetarianism or any other category of life we choose to abide to, or be a part of, it's about human existence and non-existence, or maybe it isn't. I don't know, I need to keep thinking about it, and even if I don't, it'll keep coming back to me.


message 49: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth just read that this is one of the NYT 10 best books of 2016 & thought to check here on goodreads for reviews. i was on the fence b/c it sounds haunting. your review cannot be unread & so how could i not read it now?


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Elizabeth wrote: "just read that this is one of the NYT 10 best books of 2016 & thought to check here on goodreads for reviews. i was on the fence b/c it sounds haunting. your review cannot be unread & so how could ..."

Just dive into it. The first page will pull you in...... :)


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