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Book Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

'The feeling that she had never really lived in this world caught her by surprise. It was a fact. She had never lived. Even as a child, as far back as she could remember, she had done nothing but endure.'

I spied this book in the airport bookshop while waiting for a flight to Singapore and knew I had to buy it. Despite having three unread books in my backpack, I knew I couldn’t let this one go. So I bought it (despite my partners very valiant and persistent attempts to remind me I already had my reading stock for our travels).

The blurb of the book itself really gives nothing away, and so opens the theme for a lot of the book. Told from the perspective of three people connected to the protagonist, but not directly from the perspective of the protagonist herself, ‘The Vegetarian’ offers an intriguing account for how the past can, and will, send its reach deep into our present and impact all those around us.

The book starts with the main characters desire to become a vegetarian. In our western culture, this might seem a perfectly normal and acceptable change in lifestyle, but in Korea it starts a chain of reactions and events that can not be reversed. It opens a door into her personal history that all those around her wish she hadn't opened, for what it in turn opens in them.

This was an impeccably well written novella with no surprises that it won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. Han Kang, born in Kwangju and at the age of 10, moved to Suyuri, in Seoul, gives us a smooth glimpse into another culture in a way that in reading could be mine or yours, but is also definitively hers.

Intense and vivid, with a writing style that shakes the senses, it’s no surprise I devoured this book in one sitting and then sat exhausted, absorbing all of it. The English has been translated, of course, and I only wish I could read the original as I’ve no doubt much of what is trying to be said can’t be directly translated.

Not a book for the faint of heart, but definitely one to put on your list.


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