Recenzie The Vegetarian, de Han Kang

de Răzvan Anton acum 1 an

Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was my first experience with a South-Korean writer. The novel won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016, and rightfully so. It has far exceeded my expectations.

When seeing a title such as The Vegetarian one might assume that this would be the story of a vegetarian lifestyle. In fact, it is the story of choice, of gender roles, of free will and the lack of it.

Yeong-Hye is introduced to the reader as a typical house-wife, with nothing special to mark her apart until the day she becomes vegetarian, ‘because she had a dream’. So, theoretically, becoming a vegetarian entails giving up meat and, alternatively, all food products which come from animals (eggs, milk, cheese, etc). Would this be a diary of a vegetarian? Something of the type ‘Today I ate rice cake and Kimchi and I feel better than yesterday? Last week I did not use beef in my bibimbap and I felt more energetic than before?’

No. Absolutely not. The Vegetarian is a cry for help. A cry that nobody is willing to hear. It is a story of prejudice, a rebellion against social norms, a fight that Yeong-Hye takes on her own. It is the story of a patriarchal society and of gender inequality. When her family finds out that Yeong-Hye decided to become a vegetarian, they react according to authority norms and social boundaries. Her father and her husband both believe that this choice is an awkward one for the society they live in, her husband seems to silently accept all the changes that his wife is going through, not inquiring about her inner feelings, even when the choice to become a vegetarian transforms itself into a condition named anorexia. Her father, on the other hand, reacts violently and almost forces his daughter to eat meat, bringing forward the argument of authority. She must obey him because he is her father.

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