The Vegetarian A Novel, by Han Kang


Yeong-hye was several years older than her sister, Kim In-hye. Growing up with an abusive father was harder for Yeong -hye, because she received the brunt of the abuse, and the older sister was expected to keep order in the home.  

The first part of the book is called “The Vegetarian” but the decision about what Yeong-hye would eat came after her marriage. It was clear that her husband didn’t love her, and he said that he always had thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way and was just fine with that.

Yeong-hye had been haunted by dreams of torture and blood for years but after her marriage she believed she was being told to stop eating meat after a series of dreams involving images of animal slaughter. Her husband, sister and brother in law all fought to exert control over her. This abstention from meat lead those around her to extreme measures to change her decision but only resulted in her becoming even further distanced from her family and from society. Her choice and feelings didn’t matter to anyone.

The second part of the story, the “Mongolian Mark”, takes place after the marriage has dissolved and she has gone though nothing but horrible abuse over her Vegetarian choice. She is living alone when her brother in law learns of a special mark on her body that he wants to exploit in his art, and the process ignores her as a person. The effort leads to ending the brother in laws marriage.

In the last section, “The Flaming Trees”, In-hye has committed Yeong-hye to a psychiatric ward and she just refuses to eat. She thinks of herself as a tree and can’t understand why it isn’t ok to die.

The book is a masterpiece presenting a dark life story, that perhaps is allegorical of one women’s attempt to break from the violence she faces both within and without.

The Vegetarian
By Han Kang