Han Kang’s Evocative Images Stick With You: A Review of The Vegetarian

I began Han Kang’s latest work, The Vegetarian, late at night, thinking I would tuck into a few pages before bedReading settles me and helps me to sleep.  But not The Vegetarian.  Although I read no more than thirty pages, I slept restlessly, my mind filtering Kang’s word pictures over-and-over, like a coiled snake ready to strike.

The story of a young woman who lets go of the fragile grasp between reality and other, the reader is left wondering whether the story begins with mental illness or whether the affliction comes as a result of refusing to continue with the ceaseless march of daily life.  In her sister’s words, of just “enduring” for another day, week, or month.

Told in three parts, first from the husband’s perspective, then her brother-in-law, and finally the sister, the story of a young woman emerges who is consumed by a dream that leaves her refusing to eat meat and eventually, to eat at all.  Food becomes unnecessary when a person merges and becomes one with the universe.  Living, dying, they are all the same and have no larger meaning or concern because we are all one–one interconnected part of a greater cycle of earth, trees, flowers, animals, and air.

Han Kang’s deeply emotional allegorical tale leaves the reader questioning their ability to control their own life and body, wondering how much control one has over the pains that plague us, taking root deep within our souls.  A beautiful, lyrical read that left me in tears–for the people touched and altered by the protagonist, Yeong-hey’s life, and for my own pain and suffering, embodied by this woman’s struggles.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes.