The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Jill's Take

We bought The Vegetarian when we were back in Minneapolis in October 2015. I was drawn to the cover immediately; it's a striking red background with the silhouette of a woman's head and branches streaming from the neck. This imagery becomes clear fairly late in the book and is beautiful and haunting when it does. 

I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read and I was immersed in what was happening to the main character throughout. There were parts, at first, that I thought were maybe suffering from translation woes, but those dissipated as either I got used to the writing or the writing changed. The book consists of different narrators across the chapters, but all surrounding the decision by the main character to become vegetarian. But of course, this is about so much more than a simple dietary choice. As the story unfolds you begin to see into the psyche of the vegetarian and those in her family. The consequences of their reactions (and their reactions themselves) are beautifully written and graphic in their harshness. I could really identify with the main character and her struggles and felt like I was pulled in to sympathizing with her situation. The brutality of her family's reaction is not something I can sympathize with at all. There are extremes on both sides, but Kang uses a choice to be vegetarian to uncover so much more about family, about culture and about duty.

This is a great, short read that has me thinking about it well beyond the end. 

Zac's Take

As Jill mentioned above, this book is about so much more than a woman who decides to become a vegetarian. At it's core it IS about a Korean woman who decides to become a vegetarian. The plot revolves around this simple premise, but the way her whole life unravels as a result is fascinating.

To be quite honest, this is about a woman becoming a vegetarian about as much as The Invisible Man is about a man nobody can see. It's more of an allegory than a novel.

The writing is by turns both lush and sparse, shocking and mundane. I've been reading a fair bit of prose written by non native English speakers, and while some nuance can be lost in translation, it also serves to add a bit of flavor that may not exist in the original.  

You really should read it. It allows an opening into another culture, and shows how strong one must be to resist a family and country that is bent on opposing your wishes.

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