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The Vegetarian
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2017 TOB -The Books > The Vegetarian

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

Amy (asawatzky) | 1631 comments space to dish on The Vegetarian by Han Kang


Kristel (kristelh) | 27 comments I've wanted to read this one for awhile and finally got it done. It was not a surprise to me, I thought it would be a difficult, uncomfortable read and it was.


Ruthiella | 331 comments The thing I found most interesting about The Vegetarian is how the reader never hears directly from Young-Hye, so her real motives are obscured. While reading it seemed to me to be straightforward portrayal of a person’s descent into mental illness. But in hearing other people’s reviews, I realized there was a lot of subtext that could be mined from the narratives.


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

Amy (asawatzky) | 1631 comments I'm wondering if I should give "Wide Sargasso Sea" another shot after this... I hated it so much and couldn't see where commentators derived their analyses on female sexual suppression and manipulation by men/society leading to madness... yet I was able to empathize with many possible external causes of Yeong-he's breakdown. Perhaps it's one of those "right time in your life to read it" moments.


message 5: by Neighbors (new)

Neighbors (neighbors73) | 69 comments I just finished it. I cautiously liked but I definitely look forward to discussion. Not sure what to make of it, really.


Drew (drewlynn) | 416 comments I know I missed a lot when I read this book last year. It's short enough that perhaps I will have time to reread it. I think I would get a lot more out of it a second time.


BooksBeyondMeasure | 7 comments I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. I was extremely skeptical at first, but this is a story I don't think I've ever heard before. And to do it in so few pages, astounding.


message 8: by Eli (new) - added it

Eli Easton (elieaston) | 2 comments I just finished it. I generally liked the writing and language. It was interesting to be immersed in life in South Korea. As a vegan, I liked the concept, although in the end it's not really about vegetarianism but more about anorexia. I guess Yeong-hye is controlling the one thing she can control -- her own body, and in doing so, rebelling against the domestic role she is supposed to carry. I could understand her husband's POV and her brother-in-law's POV from this angle, but I found the final POV of the sister confusing.

The sister is also unhinged, and is in a way resentful that Yeong-hye has found a way to escape or side-step her responsibilities by going mad. But is the sister also mad?

I loved the imagery of the woman becoming a plant, but I confess that I'm not sure what it's supposed to represent. I almost wanted some twist, like she really was becoming a plant (which I know would be contradictory to the realism of the novel) or she and her sister are the same or ... something. It just ends in a very vague and unsatisfying way to me.

I'm curious to read other's explanations of the book.


Kristel (kristelh) | 27 comments Eli wrote: "I just finished it. I generally liked the writing and language. It was interesting to be immersed in life in South Korea. As a vegan, I liked the concept, although in the end it's not really about ..."

I, too, am a vegan and I eat very well! This book was disturbing because it is more about mental illness that a dietary choice. I was surprised that the cultural was so opposed to vegetarianism. I would have expected that it would be more open. That part was very surprising.


Trish | 33 comments This was my take on the book (pardon the copying from my review):

Three interconnected stories told from 3 POV about the same character (the Vegetarian). Rather than a comment on meat-eating, it's an exploration of feminism in a male-dominated society, which in this case results in the main character's complete denial of her human-ness; by the end she believes she is turning into a plant. We see the main character through the eyes of her husband (who sees her as property), her brother-in-law (who views her through sexual obsession), and her sister (who identifies with and elaborates on the themes of woman-hood, losing your voice, subjugation, etc.).

We rarely hear from the Vegetarian directly, which further distances her and adds to the feeling of objectification and other's attempts to dominate her body and her experiences. She is the silent sufferer, who erases herself entirely.


Trish | 33 comments I find it interesting that we all have such different experiences of this book! It is my favorite so far in the TOB, narrowly beating out Homegoing for me. I was just amazed; I hadn't read anything quite like it, and there was so much impact and imagery packed into such a small book.


message 12: by Eli (last edited Feb 22, 2017 03:58PM) (new) - added it

Eli Easton (elieaston) | 2 comments Trish wrote: "I find it interesting that we all have such different experiences of this book! It is my favorite so far in the TOB, narrowly beating out Homegoing for me. I was just amazed; I hadn't read anything..."

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it.

I think I would have liked it better if not for the third section. I did like the objectification (well, when I say 'like'....) by the men in the first two sections and I did like the imagery of her resisting meat and then becoming more plant like.

But the sister's section I found sort of repetitive and more confusing. The sister is fairly independent, and by the time her section began, she was divorced and seemed to have her freedom. And yet her mental state is suicidal and unkilter, like that of Yeoung-Hye's. So I found that rather contradictory with the theme of subjugation by men.

I think the main thing though was that I just found that section confusing and meandering. There was the thing about Yeoung-Hye escaping to the forest but nothing really came of that. And the ending in the ambulance was just abrupt and unresolved. Like, why did it end there specifically? I felt like it was unfinished and the point was either not made or I just didn't get it. I found that feeling, at the end of a book, frustrating, so that lowered my rating of it a lot.

Also, I listened to the audiobook and while the first two sections held my attention, the third didn't. I had to stop and rewind a number of times after realizing my attention had wandered.

I read somewhere that the three sections were written over time. Initially it was a short story with just the first section, the husband's. Then the second section was added. Then later, the third. It feels a bit to me like the third section was added on for length and doesn't really add much to the theme and, I thought, actually weakens it.


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

Drew (drewlynn) | 416 comments Eli wrote: "Trish wrote: "I find it interesting that we all have such different experiences of this book! It is my favorite so far in the TOB, narrowly beating out Homegoing for me. I was just amazed; I hadn't..."

I agree with you, Eli. That third section really puzzled me.


Ruthiella | 331 comments I find that really interesting because I liked the sister’s section the best. It has been a while since I read the book, but I think I may have preferred the third section because I felt that the sister saw Young-Hye a person at least, whereas both Young-Hye’s husband and brother-in-law saw her more as an object or a reflection of their desires.

But I personally found the book to be more about one woman’s decent into mental illness while reading rather than anything else. It was only after having read other people’s reviews that I was aware of all the other layers that could be gleaned from it.


message 15: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo | 429 comments i'll read the thread in a bit. just here to say that i finished this today earlier and i feel a bit slayed.


message 16: by Beth (new) - rated it 4 stars

Beth Dean (readremark) | 29 comments I know exactly what you mean, Jo. I felt the same after I finished. I had so many feels and couldn't fully gather my thoughts on it. Still having trouble, to be honest.


message 17: by jo (last edited Feb 24, 2017 08:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo | 429 comments Trish wrote: "This was my take on the book (pardon the copying from my review):

Three interconnected stories told from 3 POV about the same character (the Vegetarian). Rather than a comment on meat-eating, it's..."


i am with trish. the book is not about "mental illness" at all. in fact, categorizing yeong-hye as mad (anorexic, schizophrenic, etc.) and incarcerating her and violating her in multiple ways, is just another way to de-humanize her. the last section, in which the sister gets her while never having had the courage of standing up for her, is exceedingly moving.

she was never a danger to anyone and they should have let her be.

i am not sure though that i find her interaction with the BIL dehumanizing at all. she was happy. she wanted those flowers on her. they were sharing a vision in which sex was very much a part for both of them.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

jo wrote: "i am not sure though that i find her interaction with the BIL dehumanizing at all. she was happy. she wanted those flowers on her. they were sharing a vision in which sex was very much a part for both of them..."

She clearly enjoyed being covered in flowers, but the sexual part seemed like he was taking advantage of her. She did not seem to have control of herself at that point.


message 19: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo | 429 comments Tina wrote: "jo wrote: "i am not sure though that i find her interaction with the BIL dehumanizing at all. she was happy. she wanted those flowers on her. they were sharing a vision in which sex was very much a..."

she was fully consenting. you have to believe that she was diminished in order to say that was did not have control of herself, which of course begs the question. one proof that she did have control of herself is that she didn't do what she didn't want to do -- not only eating, of course, but also having sex with BIL unless he was painted.


message 20: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 25, 2017 12:54AM) (new)

jo wrote: "one proof that she did have control of herself is that she didn't do what she didn't want to do -- not only eating, of course, but also having sex with BIL unless he was painted. ..."

I did perceive Yeong-hye as diminished, not necessarily by mental illness, but by lifelong verbal and emotional abuse and neglect from her father and husband. She was vulnerable, and her brother in law manipulated her to act out his fantasy. If he thought of her as his equal, he would have directly asked her for what he really wanted. Instead, he slyly moved her step by step beyond her comfort zone. However, your examples of Yeong-hye asserting her will are convincing. Maybe you are right. I didn't like this book much, but you have given me reason to look forward to the ToB judging and commentariat. Thanks for that!


message 21: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo | 429 comments Tina wrote: "jo wrote: "one proof that she did have control of herself is that she didn't do what she didn't want to do -- not only eating, of course, but also having sex with BIL unless he was painted. ..."

I..."


aw, what a sweet comment, tina. the BIL is definitely prey of his own "forbidden" desires. but we could problematize (and i think han kang does) why those desires should be forbidden. we know that his family looks down on it because his wife is the sole earner, yet, later, we learn he is a driven artist who works very hard at what he does. when he paints the flowers on people's bodies he seems very much in his own element, and when a colleague looks at his short video of the painted bodies making love to each other he is very impressed and finds the quality very high.

he approaches yeong-hye out of desire, but he doesn't abuse her, and, although he doesn't tell her that his hope is that eventually she will have sex with the painted man (he doesn't tell either of them; is he abusing him too?), he doesn't force them to do anything. he gently suggests it when it's already clear, from yeong-hye's behavior, that she deeply wants it.

enjoying and wanting sex seem to me to be used here, alongside art and the will to exercise control over one's own body, as reasons to be punished. let us remember that yeong-hye gets institutionalized (with a straightjacket!!!!) and BIL is put in jail simply for having consensual sex.

there are outcasts in this book, and they are outcast for the most tenuous reasons: for refusing to eat meat and meat products and for wanting to do daring art. yeong-hye's sister, in her chapter, describes how to stay in the world, how not be cast out of it or, literally, killed by it, and we see the tremendous toll of unhappiness this takes in her.


Bryn (Plus Others) (brynplusplus) | 94 comments I only finished this one yesterday and felt very at sea about it until I read the comments here and my own view of the themes came into focus. I didn't enjoy reading it at all, but I think I see now something of what she was doing.

With Yeong-Hye and sex -- to me it's another way of highlighting the question of whether or not she's able to choose what happens to her body. In-Hye believes that her sister is too mentally ill to consent to sex, that her (soon to be ex) husband just raped her sister. But how is that belief different from their father's belief that Yeong-Hye has no right to refuse meat? How are they both different from the medical establishment force feeding her to keep her alive? I like that the questions are there, and that the book doesn't provide any clear answers, different readers come away from it with such different opinions of what is going on.


Ehrrin | 114 comments I'm reading her next book, Human Acts, right now, and it makes me want to go back and read The Vegetarian again. (Human Acts is also fantastic and disturbing, but in a different way.)


message 24: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo | 429 comments Bryn wrote: "I only finished this one yesterday and felt very at sea about it until I read the comments here and my own view of the themes came into focus. I didn't enjoy reading it at all, but I think I see no..."

yes! what a smart point. this book is about a woman's ownership of her body hey?


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The Vegetarian (other topics)

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Han Kang (other topics)