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The Vegetarian
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2016 alt.TOB (#2) The Books > The Vegetarian

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message 1: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments The Vegetarian by Han Kang

About the Book: (source: amazon.com)
A beautiful, unsettling novel about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soul

Before the nightmares began, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary, controlled life. But the dreams—invasive images of blood and brutality—torture her, driving Yeong-hye to purge her mind and renounce eating meat altogether. It’s a small act of independence, but it interrupts her marriage and sets into motion an increasingly grotesque chain of events at home. As her husband, her brother-in-law and sister each fight to reassert their control, Yeong-hye obsessively defends the choice that’s become sacred to her. Soon their attempts turn desperate, subjecting first her mind, and then her body, to ever more intrusive and perverse violations, sending Yeong-hye spiraling into a dangerous, bizarre estrangement, not only from those closest to her, but also from herself.

Celebrated by critics around the world, The Vegetarian is a darkly allegorical, Kafka-esque tale of power, obsession, and one woman’s struggle to break free from the violence both without and within her.

About the Author and Translator: (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_Kang & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deborah...
Han Kang (Hangul: 한강; born November 27, 1970) is a South Korean writer. She won the Man Booker International Prize for fiction in 2016 for The Vegetarian, a novel which deals with a woman’s decision to stop eating meat and its devastating consequences. The novel is also the first of her books to be translated into English.

Deborah Smith (born 15 December 1987) is a British translator of Korean fiction. She translated The Vegetarian by Korean author Han Kang, for which she and the author were cowinners of the Man Booker International Prize in 2016. Smith began learning Korean in 2010. Smith founded Tilted Axis Press, a non-profit publishing house focusing on contemporary fiction specifically from Asia.


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If you would like to chat about this book, or this author, here's a place to do so!

Happy reading!!


message 2: by jess (new) - added it

jess (skirtmuseum) | 146 comments I was really left feeling like I don't understand enough about South Korea to really get all the things that Han Kang is doing here - like, I get it to some degree, but I am leaving a lot on the table. It's pretty refreshing for such a slight book to leave me feeling so inadequate!


message 3: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments I think we're always supposed to feel distance from the main character because she really doesn't get her own voice.


message 4: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments Amy wrote: "I think we're always supposed to feel distance from the main character because she really doesn't get her own voice."

which actually reminds me a bit of another Korean novel: Please Look After Mom (which was really good)


Dianne | 13 comments This was such a haunting, disturbing book. Viewing Yeong-hye through the lenses of various individuals who have never really regarded her as a human being with her own agency, her own command of her own life, her own voice, it is both sad and appalling that it takes her utter abandonment of not only meat, but her faculties, for those people closest to her in her daily life to actually acknowledge her. We watch her mental unraveling and inexorable drive to abandon any trappings of being human, and you can't wholly blame her after the way that humanity had already abandoned her.


Ryan Fields | 77 comments I remember being struck by how those closest to her only wanted to 'fix' her, as if her erratic behavior was an obstacle to her being accepted as a person. Very timely as many societies are struggling to come to terms with female empowerment and individuality.


message 7: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments Anyone know if there is a significance to Yeong-hye's eyes being "single-lidded?" It was mentioned several times and contrasted with her double-lidded sister and it just seemed such a strange detail to focus on.


Dianne | 13 comments I think some people perceive double lidded to be more attractive. Just one more area that those criticizing yeong-hye chose to focus on.


Mainon (bravenewbooks) | 91 comments I read this book early this year, and my experience of it has evolved so much over time that I thought it was worth remarking on. In looking at other members' reviews, I see I'm not the only one who didn't know how to rate it (or even to organize my thoughts about it) at first.

But for me it's been like a slow-growing plant. Reading it planted seeds, which I've been astonished to see flower into multiple conversations with multiple people about big ideas. I find myself thinking and talking about this book more than maybe any other I've read this year.


未知生焉知死 Anvil Amy wrote: "Anyone know if there is a significance to Yeong-hye's eyes being "single-lidded?" It was mentioned several times and contrasted with her double-lidded sister and it just seemed such a strange detai..."

As a South Korean reader, I bet most of Korean readers would agree to you (myself included). It is indeed a strange detail to focus on.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Dianne wrote: "I think some people perceive double lidded to be more attractive. Just one more area that those criticizing yeong-hye chose to focus on."

I had never heard of single or double-lidded eyes before, so I did a Google search. It seems to be a common aesthetic issue among Asian women, and many people have cosmetic surgery to get a crease put in their eyelids.


message 12: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 20, 2016 08:57PM) (new)

For me, this was a 2-star (just okay) book. I opted out of reading it when it was newly published because of the mixed reviews. When it made the alt. ToB, I decided to listen to the Audible version. That might have been a mistake. The narrator's reading style was mostly monotone, which seemed to match with the unemotional text, but left me feeling disconnected from the characters. I found Yeong-hye's descent into mental illness interesting, but not sympathetic. Her sister was the more compelling character, and I wish her story had been the focus of the novel.


message 13: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments Tina wrote: "For me, this was a 2-star (just okay) book. I opted out of reading it when it was newly published because of the mixed reviews. When it made the alt. ToB, I decided to listen to the Audible version..."

yes, this is a good-for-conversation TOB book as it seems to be polarizing people ... I'm either seeing 2-stars or 4-stars (a few 5-stars) but very little in the middle.


Caroline   | 150 comments I'm on the side of being very impressed with this, but I can see why people wouldn't be. I am definitely still getting my mind around it.

Curious if anyone knows whether the two men's habit of referring to their wives not-by-name (Narrator 1 says 'my wife,' constantly; Narrator even more oddly refers to his wife in dialogue as [son's name's] mother, is meant to express their alienation, or if it would seem more conventional in Korean.


message 15: by 未知生焉知死 (last edited Aug 22, 2016 03:20AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

未知生焉知死 Anvil Caroline wrote: "I'm on the side of being very impressed with this, but I can see why people wouldn't be. I am definitely still getting my mind around it.

Curious if anyone knows whether the two men's habit of ref..."


It's a cultural thing (by the way, I'm South Korean).

Neither husband nor wife refers to his/her spouse by name in South Korea. So when a husband speaks to his wife, he usually say "darling", or "son or daughter's name" and vice versa. If you read the text carefully, you will notice that In-hye does not refer to her husband by his name either.

In fact, if your spouse call you by your name in Korea, the first idea that would come to your mind: "Huh? Does he/she get angry at me for some reason, and is he/she going to pick a quarrel now? ". It would be understood as an expression of being rudeness, aggressiveness, discontent and/or complaint.

And even when you refer to your spouse to the third person (i.e., your friend, your parent etc...), in Korea you are not supposed to refer to him/her by name (instead, my husband or my wife should be used). If you do that, you are being rude and disrespectful toward your spouse in Korean culture.

Your name is more heavy-weighted in Korea than in the West (probably more than you can imagine) and it is something which should be treated carefully and respectfully.


Caroline   | 150 comments Thank you, Moot! That is so interesting.


message 17: by 未知生焉知死 (last edited Aug 22, 2016 09:17AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

未知生焉知死 Anvil Caroline wrote: "Thank you, Moot! That is so interesting."

Glad to hear that it is interesting to you.

Just in case that you may have a chance to talk to a Korean or a Japanese (yes, almost everything I wrote in my previous comment applies equally well to Japanese culture, though not sure about Chinese).

Don't be afraid of calling by name when you speak with them in English. They all know very well that the cultural difference concerning to call by name between the West and their cultures, and they will NEVER feel offended or misunderstand you. (especially more so provided that they speak English more or less). You can safely forget all the cultural difference things mentioned in my previous comment and they will be just fine to adjust their attitude and cultural expectations when they speak to a westerner in English, in the spirit of "when in Rome, do as the Romans".


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