Vegetarian Cover

The Vegetarian

Han Kang

A South Korean tale of violence, oppression, sex, mental illness and diet.

I ate too much meat. The lives of the animals I ate have all lodged there. Blood and flesh, all those butchered bodies are scattered in every nook and cranny, and though the physical remnants were excreted, their lives still stick stubbornly to my insides.

The Vegetarian is the powerful, Man Booker International Prize-winning release from South Korea’s Han Kang. Emotional, thought-provoking and a statement piece, the title The Vegetarian refers to Yeong-hye, at first a devoted housewife, she becomes haunted by dreams of animals being slaughtered and is repulsed by meat as a consequence. Her new diet, one consisting of no meat (meat-free), is not met with approval by those in her social circle. She finds her choice shunned by family, peers and even her husband, the only reason being that it doesn’t fit their society. Yeong-hye becomes withdrawn, sinking into mental instability and physically deteriorates.

The Vegetarian is split into three parts, each focusing on a different member of Yeong-hye’s family and their interactions with her. It is from these interactions that we as the reader grasp a glimpse into Yeong-hye’s state of mind and the actions she takes over the course of the novel. ‘Part 1: The Vegetarian’ functions as an introduction, introducing us to Yeong-hye through the eyes of her husband Mr Cheong, ‘Part 2: Mongolian Mark’ focuses on Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law and his experience with her during the middle of her ‘change’. ‘Part 3: Flaming Trees’ follows In-hye, Yeong-hye’s sister, as she visits Yeong-hye when she is fully immersed in her mental state.

The Vegetarian is a novel that is likely to divide opinion between its readership; there is no questioning that the writing is accomplished and effective, but the premise is bleak and complex with sexual and brutal scenes, making it ‘not everyone’s cup of tea’. In short, a novel that should be commended but that isn’t for everyone, some will connect with the book, others will be left confused, and most will probably be in the boundary between.


How are women portrayed in the novel compared to the men? Does the quote ‘There’s nothing wrong with keeping quiet, after all, hadn’t women traditionally been expected to be demure and restrained?’ fit in with the general attitudes of the novel?

Why do you think Han Kang chose to tell Yeong-hye’s story in three parts and from three points of view? What effect does this have when reading?

What does the novel suggest about South Korean attitudes towards diet, sexuality, hierarchy, parenthood and mental illness? How do these relate to your own experiences?

How would you describe The Vegetarian? Do you think it easily fits into a genre? Are their similar reads that you know of or do you think this breaks the mould?

Why do you think so little is mentioned of the supporting characters out of their own parts?

What comments are made about women in the role as a wife, a sister and a mother?

How do each of the section titles: The Vegetarian, Mongolian Mark, Flaming Trees, represent the story they contain?


The final part of The Vegetarian ‘Flaming Trees’, sees In-hye; Yeong-hye’s sister, struggle in her new position as a single mother – since the events of ‘Mongolian Mark’ she has left her husband. She is now the only member of her family to still support her sister, Yeong-hye, who is deteriorating in a psychiatric hospital. In-hye regularly visits her sister, who despite treatment is erratic in her behaviour, trying to become more plant-like by not consuming food and positioning her body as if she is a tree. In-hye appears to be going through a form of depression herself, seemingly overwhelmed by the events that have previously transpired. Towards the end of the novel there is a horrific physical excursion as Yeong-hye has denounced all food and is being forced-fed, the ill-treatment and pain is enough to cause In-hye to bite a carer when she is prevented from intervening on her sister’s care. The incident sees both sisters transferred to another hospital by ambulance passing trees along the way, which are described as ‘like the rippling flanks of a massive animal, wild and savage’. The novel ends as In-hye stares out at the trees hoping for some sort of answer.

Han Kang won the Man Booker International Prize along with her English translator Deborah Smith for The Vegetarian in 2016.

The English translation of the novel has been the subject of controversy, claims have been made that the translator embellished Kang’s writing changing the style of the piece.

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“Look, sister, I'm doing a handstand; leaves are growing out of my body, roots are sprouting out of my hands…they delve down into the earth. Endlessly, endlessly…” —The Vegetarian by Han Kang . . . What a devastating, haunting read. No one is happy, no one gets what they truly want without dire repercussions. Although it is a relatively short book, there is so much packed into the story that I will be processing it for quite a while yet. . . . I heard about this book in one of my classes and was intrigued by the idea of someone choosing a vegetarian lifestyle in a culture where it is not entirely acceptable. However, I was not prepared for the level of grotesque and often disturbing detail that Han Kang includes. I would definitely not recommend this book if you’re at all squeamish—a few parts were especially hard for me to get through. . . . While I appreciated the premise of this story, I found myself a little disappointed in its execution. Most significantly, why were we not allowed to experience the protagonist Yeong-hye’s perspective? Instead, the book focuses on other people’s perceptions of her: first her husband, then her brother-in-law, and finally her sister. I was most interested in the novel when it focused on the sisters’ relationship and In-hye’s perspective, but I found the men’s perspectives repetitive and—honestly—a little boring. Was the inclusion of the men’s perspectives meant to comment on the Korean culture in which the book takes place? Maybe, but if that’s the case, Yeong-hye never gets the chance to speak for herself. 3/5 🌟 for me. . . . What did you think about this book, if you’ve read it? What have you been reading lately that you’re excited about? I’d love to know! Here’s to hoping my next read will be a little more uplifting!🌷 . . . . . . #thevegetarian #hankang #book #bookworm #booklover #bookish #bookaholic #currentlyreading #bookreview #currentread #bibliophile #read #reading #literary #literature #audiobook

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Welcome to the next round of #writingwomenweek ! ✍🏽 Today's writer is Han Kang, another one of my favorite female authors! To be honest, you could just read any of her books because they are all amazing! "The Vegetarian" is the first book that was translated into English (and German as well), it won the Man Booker International Prize 2016. It tells the story of Yeong-hye, a young woman trapped in a trivial marriage, but after having dreadful nightmares she suddenly stops eating meat. With this she doesn't only break the conventions of being a docile and unobstrusive wife/member of society in South Korea, rebelling against the patriarchal structure, but also drifts more and more away from reality, revealing a madness caused by outer circumstances and an immense longing for self-determination which seems to be impossible to obtain. The disturbing yet very aesthetic nightmares meet secret desires and kafkaesque descriptions and leave the reader with many impressions and topics to think about as well as a lot of room for interpretations. It's a short but gripping read and certainly not for everybody, but you should definitely give this authoresses a try because she's extremely talented! 🖤

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Stay with the one who loves books as much as you do. 🍃

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"Life is such a strange thing, she thinks, once she has stopped laughing. Even after certain things have happened to them, no matter how awful the experience, peoples still go on eating and drinking, doing to the toilet and washing themselves – living, in other words. And sometimes they even laugh out loud. And they probably have these thoughts, too, and when they do it must take them cheerlessly recall all the sadness they'd briefly managed to forget." / #TheVegetarian #HanKang . I honestly don't know what to say or how to describe my feelings about this book. 😅 It is beautifuly disturbing. Is that even possible? Well, yes! You might end up lost after reading this book (which what I am right now) but I don't feel any regrets. Instead, I am happy that I have read this book. This is a very thought-provoking read and Han Kang's writing is undeniably brilliant. I still need some time to write my review. For now, i'm giving it a 4-star rating. ☺ ____________________ #kathreadsreview #bookstagram #booksofinstagram #onthebed #onthebedproject #unitedbookstagram #diversereads #bookreview #literaryfiction #justgoshoot #kindcomments #goodreads #livros #bookstagrammer #booktography

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