‘The Vegetarian’ by Han Kang, translated into English by Deborah Smith, is a book based in Korea and is the story of Yeong-hye, a very ordinary woman, married to a very ordinary man and leading a very plain existence until out of the blue a very horrifying dream jolts her and turns everything she knew upside down. It’s a story that describes the journey of a person affected by mental illnesses, sometimes that can end up devouring the life of not only the person directly affected but also those around them, causing havoc and causing unimaginable ruination of a life once lived.
This book is among the weirdest I’ve ever read, but somehow it’s captivating and keeps the reader enthralled however maniacal it gets.
It starts fast paced but loses steam gradually throughout till it becomes quite slow, nevertheless it is an interesting look at mental illness and the devastation it can cause even for the people related to the one suffering primarily, and who in all aspects may be at peace with themselves and blissfully unaware and oblivious to the destruction being caused all around them.
The story is narrated in three parts, first by the husband, followed by the brother-in-law and then the sister of the protagonist. It’s not a very lengthy read and at under-200 pages can be read easily.
Also, every time the narrator changes, there are changes in the writing style that makes it easier to see the story from yet another perspective.
The very ordinary Yeong-hye has a very extraordinary dream that shocks her into giving up meat or rather any food with the slightest link to an animal source and she goes from being a meat eater to a person being repulsed merely by the thought of it.
However, it is not just about the quest of a person to becoming a true vegetarian, but rather the mental anguish that the inner demons of her mind cause her that lead to her believing she could turn into a tree and never need any food anymore, even though it would eventually lead to certain death.
The serenity and calmness of the protagonist is very surprising and makes the plot more intense and dramatic. The depiction of the sisterly relation is very beautiful and though quite melancholy in this case it shows the strong sense of loyalty the sister of the protagonist has with her that makes her stand with Yeong-hye till the very end, even while she herself is facing all her battles without any support from anywhere.
This book is both unexpected and engaging and leaves you confused and overwhelmed with thoughts.
— The reader is based in Dubai.