The Vegetarian – Han Kang


Gripping and memorable. Very happy that I picked up this slim, vividly colored novel.

The beginning of the end is when the protagonist’s husband walks in to find her hunched over the floor, surrounded by trash bags and Tupperware containers full of frozen meat. It’s a vivid image, and like many other scenes in the novel, I found myself having an almost visceral reaction to the struggles of the main character as she attempted to navigate her new revulsion in the face of meat.

This concyvonne-lee-harijanto-41745.jpgise novel is broken up into three parts: her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister all narrate different sections. Crucially, we don’t receive narration from the titular character although we are given glimpses of her thoughts through brief italicized sections. She feels removed to us, which is pertinent when we consider how in real life we are often removed from those people who are acting in ways contrary to the norm. Raising our eyebrows and making meaningful eye contact with fellow bus passengers, we do our best to ignore those people whose behaviors make us shift with discomfort, or force us to confront the gaps in our society.

What does it mean to be alive? What separates human from animals? How can we retain autonomy over ourselves and our bodies when society asserts control over our physical and mental selves? This would be a great book club pick: there’s plenty of questions and themes for a meaty conversation. (Yes, pun intended.)

Bare in mind that despite the title, vegetarianism isn’t really a central theme. The author isn’t trying to coax you into reconsidering your cheeseburger lunch. That said, it wouldn’t hurt to plan on just a salad after reading.

Review from The Guardian here.
Review from The New York Times here.