The Vegetarian | Han Kang [Review & Giveaway]

TITLE / The Vegetarian

AUTHOR / Han Kang

TRANSLATOR / Deborah Smith


DATE OF PUBLICATION / February 2, 2016 (originally published in S. Korea October 30, 2007)

NO. OF PAGES / 188


"It's your body, you can treat it however you please. The only area where you're free to do just as you like. And even that doesn't turn out how you wanted."

At the most basic level, The Vegetarian follows a woman who decides to give up eating meat and throws her marriage and family into chaos. At its core, Han Kang's beautiful little novel is about taking control and stepping outside of the prescribed path of life, even if that requires stepping outside yourself.

Yeong-hye is the wife of Mr. Cheong, a chronic under-achiever who married her beacuse she was perfectly ordinary and average. According to Mr. Cheong, the only thing that separates his wife from other women is her distain for wearing bras. That is, of course, until he wakes up to find her throwing out all the animal products in their house after suffering from a dream of blood and violence. Yeong-hye's seemingly simple decision not to eat meat causes life as they know if to tilt off its axis: Mr. Cheong is embarrassed by his once ordinary wife and her parents react violently to the shame of having a daughter who will not feed her husband "properly." As Yeong-hye's vegetarianism evolves into something more complicated, she becomes the object of her brother-in-law's obsession and causes her sister to wonder whether she would have had the courage to step so far out of the mold.

For such a short book, The Vegetarian attempts to look at quite a few themes: social and familial expectations, artistic inspiration, the importance of having some control over yourself. But what really stands out for me is the writing style itself. Deborah Smith did a fantastic job with the translation, really capturing the artistry of Kang's descriptions. With a vague Murakami-esque essence, Kang's writing has a surrealist and dreamlike quality. Yeong-hye is written almost like a mythical character and in the end I wouldn't have been surprised if she actually did transform from a woman into a tree.

Rather than using a traditional chapter breakdown, the novel is divided into three parts, all of which are separated by different periods of time. I think this was a really effective technique because it allows the reader to see the progression of Yeong-hye's condition without creating a lull in the plot. However, that doesn't mean that all the parts were equal to each other. I personally thought the weakest part was the second section, which was narrated by "brother-in-law," the husband of Yeong-hye's older sister. While I can see how it was necessary to show the intermediate stage of Yeong-hye's condition, I wasn't so sure that the voice of her brother-in-law was the best for the job.

In contrast, my favorite section was the final section, narrated by Yeong-hye's sister. In that section, everything comes together really beautifully and I think we get the most interesting discussion about social expectations in Korean culture. While her sister has always been the responsible one, the daughter who did everything she was supposed to and supported everyone else, Yeong-hye has effectively stepped outside those social constructs by deciding to take control over her own body.

In conclusion, this is a book I feel that I will need to reread again and again to discover all that Kang has hidden within its pages. I would like to note that, despite its title, The Vegetarian really isn't about vegetarianism or being a vegetarian in South Korea. I've seen many people jump to this conclusion and feel like I have a duty to steer readers in the right direction. And I would warn those who are easily triggered by mentions of eating disorders, rape, or mental illness.

However, if you like strikingly beautiful literary fiction about what it means to take control of the self and are interested in works of masterful translation, I would highly recommend this novel.

About The Vegetarian About Han Kang

Disclaimer: I received this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. I was not paid to review or feature this book and this review is my 100% honest opinion. This is not a sponsored post.

Giveaway now closed!
Thanks to those who entered and good luck! I will use Random.org to choose one winner from these comments and the comments on my video review. I will contact the winner directly once they are chosen.


  1. I want to enter!
    I recommend a comic series instead, translated form the French called "Asterix." It is one of the best things I ever read as a kid and love still.

  2. Count me in!

    I wholeheartedly recommend Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, by Nahoko Uehashi. Balsa a mercenary, is hired to hide and protect a Prince who may be infused with a spirit egg that threatens the fate of the kingdom.

    By far one of my favourite characters. Uehashi created Balsa a strong, tragic, rational character and still manages to make a story accessible to children.


  3. A recent favorite is The Architect's apprentice by Elif Shafak. Honestly anything by Shafak is worth checking out.


  4. I want to enter! Yas!!! I am half korean and I am struggling with being totally vegan. Im a vegetarian. So this book is interesting to me :) I would recommend The Story of Han Gildong published this year by Penguin Classics. This book is also translated from South Korea. And I think this is a classic story in Korea. It's only 100 pages so I think it might be a quick read although classics are not an easy read for me haha. I haven't read it yet but this is on my TBR since it is from the country where i was born. And the synopsis is interesting. If you like the story of robin hood you might like this one :)

    1. I forgot. here is my email- jessica_JC07@yahoo.com and twitter @itscheshirecat7