“Her life was no more than a ghostly pageant of exhausted endurance, no more than a television drama. Death, who now stood by her side, was as familiar to her as a family member, missing for a long time but now returned.” This quote sums up the misery that is Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”, inexplicable winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.
The story begins with Yeong-hye becoming a vegetarian and her husband’s growing concern over her refusal to eat meat, particularly after a disastrous business dinner with the husband’s boss and others. “[H]er husband had decided that her vegetarianism was proof that she would never be ‘normal’ again.” Her family tries to convince her to eat meat and after numerous brutal encounters, physical, emotional and sexual, she rapidly devolves into insanity. Her sister, In-hye tries to bring her back from the brink.
In-hye spends a great deal of time pondering how she could have changed the direction of her sister’s life. She also analyzes how easily she could have been the one to break down instead of her sister, but for certain family obligations that forced her to focus outside herself. The book addresses certain issue of medical care for the mentally ill and how easy it is to go from lucidity to insanity. The book’s main theme is that life is an endurance test–an experience to be tolerated while struggling to avoid crossing the very thin line into insanity.
While well written, the story is so bizarre and so depressing that the best thing I can say about it is that it is short–just like this review. If you want to punish yourself for some reason, you can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11177384__Sthe%20vegetarian__P0%2C2__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold