Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon Wrap Up

Saga: Vol 1 / Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples - 160 pages
Killing and Dying / Adrian Tomine - 121 pages
The Strange Library / Haruki Murakami - 96 pages
A Drifting Life / Yoshihiro Tatsumi - 191 pages
The Yoga of Max's Discontent / Karan Bajaj - 60 pages

Total Pages Read - 628 pages!


Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon TBR

Unaccustomed Earth / Jhumpa Lahiri
The Yoga of Max's Discontent / Karan Bajaj
A Drifing Life / Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Saga: Volume 1 / Brian K. Vonge
Aging and Dying / Adrian Tomine


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.


Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness | Kenzaburo Oe

TITLE / Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness

AUTHOR / Kenzaburo Oe

TRANSLATOR / John Nathan

PUBLISHER / Grove Press

DATE OF PUBLICATION / October 13, 1994 (originally published in Japan 1966)

NO. OF PAGES / 261


With such an intense and fully packed collection of stories, I do not even know where to begin!

The title story, "Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness" is about a hugely fat man who believes he is the only connection between the real world and his mentally disabled son and his obsession with how his father died. "Aghwee the Sky Monster" is narrated by a young man who is hired as the companion of a young composer who believes he can see a giant baby floating in the sky. The collection's longest and most bizarre story, "The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away," is the tale of a man wearing goggles covered in cellophane who believes he is dying of cancer that is not actually there.

This collection of Oe's is full of the bizarre, the uncomfortable, and the grotesque. As mentioned in the fantastically informative introduction, Kenzaburo is of the generation of Japanese men that grew up in the aftermath of World War II and tried to recreate some sense of national identity while coming to grips with the horrors of war. The stories in this collection show a particular interest in father-son relationships, the act of seclusion, and the idea of what we inherit when we are born. Although these themes crop up in every story, Oe handles them so differently in each one that I was sometimes left wondering how one person could write in such different and yet equally strong voices.

The final and my favorite story in the collection, "Prize Stock," could be considered Oe's riff on Mark Twain's enduring novel Huckleberry Finn. In this story, our narrator is a boy of about 12 or 14 who lives in kind of a backwoods village during WWII. He sleeps with his father and brother in a storage shed full of slaughtered animals, hates the village kids, and believes that the war will never touch their lives until one day when an American fighter plane crashlands nearby. The villagers capture the African American pilot and hold onto him until he can be retrieved by the authorities. This African American soldier becomes the responsibility of the village children, who take turns watching and caring for him as though he were some kind of exotic pet.

"Prize Stock" is exemplary of this entire collection: graphic in its grotesqueness, brutal in its content, and harshly honest about how war affects boys and ultimately turns them into damaged men. It is also worth mentioning that John Nathan deserves some kind of medal for so beautifully translating a seemingly un-translatable novel. He somehow manages to translate the exquisite descriptions in "Prize Stock" without losing its ability to evoke emotion and in "The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away," well... that story is so structurally weird that it serves as all the evidence I need to demonstrate Nathan's genius as a translator.

Needless to say, Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness isn't a collection for those who like clean cut language or easy reads. But if you're interested in seeing just what twisted characters Oe can create, I would highly recommend this collection of short novels.