The Vegetarian | Granta

  • Published: 05/11/2015
  • ISBN: 9781846276033
  • 129x20mm
  • 192 pages

The Vegetarian

Han Kang

Translated by Deborah Smith

Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister’s husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree.

Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

Shocking... The writing throughout is precise and spare, with not a word wasted. There are no tricks. Han holds the reader in a vice grip... The Vegetarian quickly settles into a dark, menacing brilliance that is similar to the work of the gifted Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa in its devastating study of psychological pain... [It] is more than a cautionary tale about the brutal treatment of women: it is a meditation on suffering and grief. It is about escape and how a dreamer takes flight. Most of all, it is about the emptiness and rage of discovering there is nothing to be done when all hope and comfort fails... A work of savage beauty and unnerving physicality. Mind-blowing

Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

It's a bracing, visceral, system-shocking addition to the Anglophone reader's diet. It is sensual, provocative and violent, ripe with potent images, startling colours and disturbing questions. Sentence by sentence, The Vegetarian is an extraordinary experience. [It] will be hard to beat

Daniel Hahn, Guardian

A strange, painfully tender exploration of the brutality of desire indulged and the fatality of desire ignored... Exquisite

Eimear McBride, Baileys Women's Prize-winning author, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing

The Author

Han Kang was born in Gwangju, South Korea, and moved to Seoul at the age of ten. She studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. Her writing has won the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. The Vegetarian, her first novel to be translated into English, was published by Portobello Books in 2015 and won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. She is also the author of Human Acts (Portobello, 2016) and The White Book (Portobello, forthcoming 2017). She is based in Seoul.

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The Translator

Deborah Smith‘s translations from the Korean include two novels by Han Kang, The Vegetarian and Human Acts, and two by Bae Suah, A Greater Music and Recitation. In 2015 Deborah completed a PhD at SOAS on contemporary Korean literature and founded Tilted Axis Press. In 2016 she won the Arts Foundation Award for Literary Translation. She tweets as @londonkoreanist. Tilted Axis’ first titles includes a darkly erotic Bengali novella, an obliquely allegorical take on South Korea’s social minorities, and a feminist, environmentalist narrative poem from Indonesia, published as a ‘sight-impaired-accessible’ art book. These will be followed by translations from Thai, Uzbek, and Japanese.

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