The Vegetarian

eBook, 200 pages

English language

Published Feb. 2, 2016 by Hogarth.

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5 stars (1 review)

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

3 editions

Culturally translatable ascetism

5 stars

This was a difficult book to finish. I wanted to finish it, for about a week, but the last 50 or so pages are emotionally harrowing. Hard work.

Stylistically beautiful. Terse and without any extraneous detail, it reads a bit like a ascetic philosophical exploration of decisions in society.

A lot of other reviews (and the blurb above) focus on the book's setting in Korea -- traditionally meat-heavy diet, traditionally rigid patriachal family structure etc. I didn't find this -- apart from the names of people (which are few) and the descriptions of food, there is very little to locate this book in space or time beyond being somewhat modern.