"The Vegetarian" by Han Kang

By Han Kang

Reviewed by Julia

ISBN 9781101906118



Book Review
Han Kang's "The Vegetarian" is the winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.  Originally published in Kang's homecountry of South Korea in 2007, this is a work of fiction guaranteed to cause a lasting imprint upon the mind.  "The Vegetarian" is an affront to mainstream society's moral codes and the belief system that so long as life is lived according to some basic rules and boundaries, all else should follow smoothly.  In this way, the novel is an absolute feast for the reader who wishes to be taken out of their comfort zone and away from surface level reasoning, coming face to face with uncomfortable scenarios and thus learning to sit with discomfort (and know it intimately).
If this sounds vaguely like meditation, in a way it is.  If it sounds too ambiguous, consider that a good reference point for the experience.  "The Vegetarian" deals in the gray and darkened areas among themes of eroticism, madness, abuse, imagination, and male and female roles in relationships. The central character has less of a voice than that of her husband, lover, and sister, and is understood by us primarily through the lens of others over the passage of time, during which her "madness" intensifies.  As this lens shifts, so does our clarity, and so our evaluation of the differing characters... What is right? What is wrong?  The catharsis of this novel is not so much fulfilled by the answering of questions, as it is in accepting the relentless clarity with which true empathy shines a clear light on the souls of others, out of the darkness of living.
--Julia Buckwalter

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