The Vegetarian (2007) -Han Kang

 

vegi-cover

There is nothing particularly controversial about the title of this book; in British culture at least. Vegetarianism and veganism has become something of a cultural fad. There seems to be a massive drive to look after both body and planet thus rating this book as somewhat topical.

This book does not, however, merely discuss the issues surrounding meat consumption. This novel delves into the lives of two families in South Korea, all of whom find their lives crumbling apart by the one woman: Yeonge-hye. Her defiant decision to ditch all meat and dairy comes as an outrageous culture shock to all those who surround her. She is mostly placid, barely speaking a word other than to inform her family: ‘I do not eat meat.’ She doesn’t wear a bra and feels at most comfortable when warming her birthday suit in the sun.

This novel is split into three parts, depicting the lives of three intertwined characters. Even during the first part, I found I was moved. It is told through the eyes of Yeonge-hye’s husband, Mr Cheong; a fairly unambitious man who’s only goal in life is to lead a quiet and comfortable one. He describes his wife as being: ‘completely unremarkable in every way.’ It is clear that the pair barely know each other. Yeonge-hye rarely speaks to him; she simply cooks his dinners and takes care of his laundry, they might as well be strangers. However, when Yeonge-hye decides to throw out all of the meat and cook only vegetable dishes because of the vivid dreams she keeps having, Mr Cheong feels like his life has been completely up hauled.

Han Kang has produced a highly through-provoking piece of literature. She explores the oppositions of immense desire and isolated detachment. She raises cultural issues concerning sexual freedom and female oppression. Vegetarianism is an act of rebellion, its a finger up to the face of society and perhaps brings to light problems that need to be addressed even still in the twenty-first century.

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