The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

I received my copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
(I actually received my copy of this book a while ago, but it got mangled in the mail. I put it under a pile of books to help it flatten out, and found it again a few weeks ago, still a little rumpled, but much more readable. So it took a while to read and review this one, but I did eventually get back to it.)
This novel is about a Korean woman who has a dream and becomes a vegetarian overnight. Her family is bizarrely disturbed by her new diet, and she is oddly unable to be vegetarian without starving. As someone who grew up vegetarian I found it very hard to relate to this part of the story, because I know from experience how easy it is to be healthy while eating vegetarian. Also, as is very briefly mentioned in the story, there are Buddhists in Korea who are vegetarian, and restaurants that cater to their dietary needs. So, the family’s issues are with conformity, not food, I guess, but it seemed a bit too contrived.
The rest of the book reveals that this woman is maybe schizophrenic, or at least that is how mental health professionals see her, and certainly no one is interested in asking her about why she is vegetarian or why she is acting the way she does. If they do ask, it is just to elicit a response, not to actually try to understand. Perhaps she is actually schizophrenic, or maybe something supernatural is going on, and no one cares enough to see what is really happening.
For a short novel, this certainly is a story with a lot going on, and I could see it as a great book club book. I enjoyed it, though it is not one of my favorite books for this year, and I did appreciate the notions of conformity and individuality that the story brings up. The blurb on the back of the book suggests this story is allegorical and Kafka-esque, which I didn’t really pick up on in the text, but then again, I am not really into doing literary analysis when I am reading most books. I am sure there is plenty to analyze in this novel, for whatever poor college or high school students find themselves assigned to write papers on it in the future.

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About Ravenmount

Independent science nerd/writer/music blogger/arts enthusiast/theorist currently in Colorado.
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