Wednesday, January 1, 2020


There are three sections to this book, The Vegetarian, by Han Kang. (It was originally written in the Korean language and then translated into English by Deborah Smith.) I imagine that most readers can keep up with the first part, even though it is horrifying and mysterious. There is a particular scene where the father of the protagonist, Yeong-hye, responds with such cruelty and violence toward her decision to be a vegetarian that I doubt anyone will soon forget the horror. As awful as the scene is, there's something culturally accurate about how he responds. Something that feels familiarly Korean. 

As we start to better understand the violence that Yeoung-hye has experienced, we realize that she is trying to leave the earth by leaving her body and ironically return to the earth. And in fact, her body becomes increasingly void of life:

"This was the body of a beautiful young woman conventionally an object of desire, and yet it was a body from which all desire had been eliminated ... what she had renounced was the very life that her body represented" (page 92).

In parts two and three, the book becomes much more abstract, with echoes of Franz Kafka and Haruki Murakami, as the writing becomes laced with magical realism, and hard-to-grasp abstractions. 

The hard-to-grasp aspects have much to do with how we define reality. And what constitutes sanity versus insanity. It also ultimately questions what value there is to life when life becomes void of desire, and what reason exists for any human to not end it. 

In other words, why continue to live when your essence has already died?

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