The Vegetarian by Han Kang: A Review

Image description: Copy of The Vegetarian by Han Kang on the background of a red floral silk scarf, surrounded by fruits and vegetables.

“When a person undergoes such a drastic transformation, there's simply nothing anyone else can do but sit back and let them get on with it.”

Review and Photo by Simone Timol

Set in South Korea, The Vegetarian follows Yeong-hye, a woman living a generally ordinary life, until her nights become wracked with nightmares. In an attempt to purify herself and her mind, she transitions to a more plant-based lifestyle, a “shocking act of subversion” that causes a schism between her and her family. Yeong-hye’s journey of discovery, tragedy, and metamorphosis is depicted beautifully by Han Kang’s talented storytelling.

I bought and read this book as I was transitioning into a more plant-based lifestyle myself, so maybe that’s why I was attached to it as I was. I thought that Kang did an amazing job of discussing society, obedience, and resistance. Yeong-hye is expected to be obedient and follow the unwritten strictures imposed upon her, and changing her diet is a small but meaningful rebellion.

The Vegetarian is a tough read, necessitating trigger warnings for abuse, violence, sexual assault, and eating disorders--I definitely needed to take a step back while I was reading. However, the prose is gorgeous, the plot’s engaging, and the characters are fascinating. In only 192 pages, Kang manages to draw readers into Yeong-hye’s world and doesn’t let them go until the end. There’s absolutely no wonder that Kang won the 2016 Man Booker Prize for her work. I would highly recommend reading The Vegetarian while also urging potential readers to be very aware of the subject matter. If you decide to give it a shot, I hope you enjoy it!