[Review] The Vegetarian - Han Kang

Title of Book: The Vegetarian
Author: Han Kang
Publisher: Hogart (Crown Publishing)
Publication Year: 192
Language: English
Translator: Deborah Smith
Format: paperback
Pages: 192

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 her 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, 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, Kafkaesque tale of power, obsession, and one woman's struggle to break free from the violence both outside and within her.


The Vegetarian is a novella written by a South Korean author, Han Kang. On the surface, The Vegetarian is about a woman who suddenly decided to be a vegetarian. This sudden change affected her life and people around her in a way that none of them could have imagined.

The Vegetarian consists of three parts, The Vegetarian, Mongolian Mark, and The Flaming Trees. Each part is told from different perspectives. In spite of that, there is none from Yeong-Hye, the woman who became vegetarian. The Vegetarian is told from her husband's perspective, Mongolian Mark is told from her brother-in-law's, while The Flaming Trees is told from her sister's. Because of this, we don’t really get to see her side of story.

The first story focused on Yeong-Hye’s first few months being a vegetarian. As this was told from the perspective of her husband, we see the disturbing side of the story. He saw Yeong-Hye as anything but his wife and he took her transformation as him losing control of her. It got worse when he decided to include Yeong-Hye’s family until she attempted suicide.

I thought I could get by perfectly well just thinking of her as a stranger, or no, as a sister, or even a maid, someone who puts food on the table and keeps the house in good order.

Reading the first story, I get that this book is not for everyone. It’s weird and it could be unsettling at times. The reason why Yeong-Hye turned into a vegetarian is because of a violent dream that she had. The dream is gory and allegorical in a way which I honestly don’t understand. 

The second story happens months after the events in the first story. It tells a bit of the aftermath of Yeong-Hye’s attempt at suicide. At this point, her marriage life’s ruined and her parents kind of give up on her. Her sister, In-Hye is the one who took care of her. In-Hye genuinely thought that she could help Yeong-Hye to become better, until her husband did something inappropriate and her marriage’s ruined too. Again, dream plays a role in this story. In-Hye’s husband kept on getting a psychedelic dream which drove him to do what he did to Yeong-Hye. Yeong-Hye reacted in the most peculiar way to In-Hye’s husband’s request. In this story, Yeong-Hye is portrayed as more childlike or innocent, as you might say.

While The Flaming Trees focused more on In-Hye’s life about three years after Yeong-Hye’s transformation into a vegetarian. Yeong-Hye’s health deteriorated more. It became more apparent that Yeong-Hye’s decision to turn vegetarian is much darker and more peculiar than it seems. Her behavior shows that she actually wanted to be a plant. So I’m going to leave it at that and let you read the book and interpret it yourself.

As weird as this book sounds, I believe there’s something hidden behind it that I couldn’t decipher yet. I’d love to read it again. The Vegetarian might not be for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. I like this book. It’s fresh and intriguing. I’ve never read anything like it before. So if it sounds like it’s right up your alley, I recommend this book for you.

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