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The Vegetarian by Han Kang - Book Club Review

If you are like me and would rather watch a video review than read one, skip to the bottom. Vellum and Vellichor touches on our thoughts about this book in two of her BookTube videos.

What It's About

Yeong-Hye, seemingly ordinary in every way, awakes from a dream and decides to become vegetarian to the horror of her entire family. Her husband leaves her, her family (other than her younger sister) abandons her and her brother in law becomes obsessed with her. As they all try to force her to fall into the back into what they believe to be normal behavior, she falls further and further away.

This book was the winner of The Man Booker International Prize for fiction in 2016 after being transalted from Korean to English by Deborah Smith. Fun fact: Deborah Smith began teaching herself Korean in 2010 and then went on to win an award for translating a novel just six years later which is pretty amazing.

What We Thought

Some hated it, some loved it, but overall we were unsure about it. This book has SO many good reviews and a lot of people have described it as one of their favorite reads of the year, it has been described as a feminist novel that smashes the patriarchy and it has been described as a book that explores madness and sexuality so we went in expecting something completely different from what we got.

A lot of us found that the more we thought about the book and what it meant, the more we were able to appreciate what Han Kang was trying to say and also how well she was saying it. The story is rich with symbolism and there are so many layers to what she wrote, that it's not as simple as just reading, being entertained and then walking away. It's very small, just a novella, but because of the layers and the symbolism, it ends up being more of a time commitment because of all the thought that comes with it.

Art is a pretty large piece of the book which was one of my favorite parts of the story. I really wanted to see the art that was being described and I thought that, if it wasn't intermixed with rape, it would actually be so beautiful and interesting.

It's not a nice story to read; it's not enjoyable. There is a lot of violence, both physical, sexual and emotional against women, against mental health, and even against animals, but interwoven into these horrible things that happen is such beautiful imagery. I'm not sure if these scenes take away from the harshness of the story or if the story takes away from their beauty, but without them, it would have been a much harder read. But, a book doesn't have to be pleasant and it "doesn't have to make you feel good to be a good book".

It's not for everyone, it was hardly for us.

Have you read it? Please let me know what you thought!

Discussion Questions

  1. The book is written from three different points of view - the husband, the brother-in-law and the sister. We never see Yeong- Hye's point of view except in brief dreams and memories. Why do you think that Kang decided to tell her story this way?

  2. The husband and brother-in-law have very different views of Yeong-Hye but both still use her for their own agendas. What do you think of this?

  3. What do you think of the brother-in-law's art?

  4. Veiled normalcy is a theme in the book but also in Korean culture. Every character except Yeong-Hye tries to appear normal no matter what is going on in their minds or their lives. How do you think this affects their choices and also their mental health? Are the other characters much better off?

  5. The book has been described by many as a story of sexuality and obsession, (on the cover Ian McEwan calls it "A novel of sexuality and madness.") Do you agree with this description?

  6. How would you describe Yeong-Hye's relationship with the other characters. She opens up most to her brother in law. Why do you think that is?

  7. This book is called The Vegetarian and it's centered around someone who becomes vegetarian, but what is it really about?

  8. The book is full of symbolism and underlying themes, discuss the symbols and themes that stood out for you.

  9. Halfway through In-Hye's section, the phrase "time passes'" is used to show the pass of time, why do you think Han Kang starts doing this?

  10. This book is also described as being feminist and a revolt against the patriarchy, do you agree with this description?

  11. Why do you think that Yeong-Hye is striving towards a "plant like existence"?

  12. What do you think of the end?

Shanna of Vellum and Vellichor is one of #bestbookclub's conspirators. Check out what she thought of this book and while you are there, subscribe to her channel!

I recommend watching the entire video because they're great, but if you just want to skip to her thoughts on The Vegetarian, move ahead to 3:15 for this video ⬆️ and 4:33 for this video. ⬇️

Post Script

Apparently, there is a movie for this book which I am totally intrigued by especially to see what the art looks like! This is the trailer, but it looks like the entire movie can also be found on YouTube. I know that most people don't enjoy film adaptations of novels, but I LOVE them so I will be watching it someday soon.

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