2016 Man Booker International Prize
Horror and transformation so often hold hands narratively that change of any kind can seem a shudder inducing, costly affair. Lush, violent, and tense, Han Kang's three-part exploration of one woman's transformation and what it costs her is a grim and bloody fairy tale for those familiar with the high stakes and high price of change. Recommended By SitaraG, Powells.com
Reminiscent of both Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" and Yanagihara's A Little Life, this book will leave you feeling completely scoured. Recommended By Gin E., Powells.com
At its surface, The Vegetarian is about a Korean housewife who has a prophetic dream and decides to become a vegetarian, a simple subversion that brings chaos to her relationships with her family and husband. As you go deeper, you find yourself in a fable about a woman who thinks she's turning into a tree, an absurdity that brings about a slow creeping horror that calls into question the stability of even the most solid social structures, and, more terrifyingly, what it means to live a life where you truly do no harm. Recommended By Cosima C., Powells.com
Somewhere between the crossroads of obsession, mental illness, lust, and betrayal, The Vegetarian exists.
When Yeong-hye has a vivid dream that leads her to give up eating meat, she attracts the unwelcome attention of not only her husband but others as well. Her life begins to come undone, and that unraveling leaves much destruction in its wake.
Told in alternating points of view, while trying to account for human nature gone sideways, The Vegetarian is a stunning read. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
One of Entertainment Weekly's "Best Books of 2016 So Far"
One of Time's "Best Books of 2016 So Far"
A beautiful, unsettling novel about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soul
Before the nightmares began, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary, controlled life. But the dreams—invasive images of blood and brutality—torture her, driving Yeong-hye to purge her mind and renounce eating meat altogether. It’s a small act of independence, but it interrupts her marriage and sets into motion an increasingly grotesque chain of events at home. As her husband, her brother-in-law and sister each fight to reassert their control, Yeong-hye obsessively defends the choice that’s become sacred to her. Soon their attempts turn desperate, subjecting first her mind, and then her body, to ever more intrusive and perverse violations, sending Yeong-hye spiraling into a dangerous, bizarre estrangement, not only from those closest to her, but also from herself.
Celebrated by critics around the world, The Vegetarian is a darkly allegorical, Kafka-esque tale of power, obsession, and one woman’s struggle to break free from the violence both without and within her.
"The Vegetarian is the first—there will be more, let’s hope—of Han Kang’s novels to arrive in the United States…The style is realistic and psychological, and denies us the comfort that might be wrung from a fairy tale or a myth of metamorphosis. We all like to read about girls swapping their fish tails for legs or their unwrinkled arms for branches, but—at the risk of stating the obvious—a person cannot become a potted bit of green foodstuff. That Yeong-hye seems not to know this makes her dangerous, and doomed." Harper’s Magazine
"The Vegetarian is one of the best novels I’ve read in years. It’s incredible, daring, and stunningly moving. I loved it." Laura van den Berg
"Sometimes how a book or a film puzzles you—how it may mystify even its own creator—is the main point. The way it keeps slithering out of your grasp. The way it chats with you in the parlor even as it drags something nameless and heavy through the woods out back….That’s the spirit in which to approach The Vegetarian…The Vegetarian has an eerie universality that gets under your skin and stays put irrespective of nation or gender." Laura Miller, Slate.com
"Astonishing…Kang viscerally explores the limits of what a human brain and body can endure, and the strange beauty that can be found in even the most extreme forms of renunciation." Entertainment Weekly
"Ferocious…[Han Kang] has been rightfully celebrated as a visionary in South Korea… Han’s glorious treatments of agency, personal choice, submission and subversion find form in the parable. There is something about short literary forms – this novel is under 200 pages – in which the allegorical and the violent gain special potency from their small packages…Ultimately, though, how could we not go back to Kafka? More than 'The Metamorphosis,' Kafka’s journals and 'A Hunger Artist'haunt this text." Porochista Khakpour, New York Times Book Review
"Surreal…[A] mesmerizing mix of sex and violence…vivid, chiseled…Like a cursed madwoman in classical myth, Yeong-hye seems both eerily prophetic and increasingly unhinged." Alexandra Alter, The New York Times
About the Author
Han Kang was born in 1970 in South Korea. In 1993 she made her literary debut as a poet, and was first published as a novelist in 1994. A participant in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, Han has won the Man Booker International Prize, the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Manhae Prize for Literature. She currently works as a professor in the department of creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.