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The Vegetarian: A Novel
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The Vegetarian: A Novel (Paperback)

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Exclusively for Foyles we talked to Han Kang and her translator Deborah Smith on the morning of the announcement that Han had won the International Man Booker Prize 2016. See below.

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.


Fiction & PoetryFiction in translationFiction & PoetryModern & contemporary fiction post c 1945 Publisher: Granta Books Publication Date: 05/11/2015 ISBN-13: 9781846276033  Details: Type: Paperback Format: Books
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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. 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.

More books by Han Kang

More books by Deborah Smith

Customer Reviews

I have never read anything so beautifully and strangely wonderful as this amazing book.

- 13/04/2020
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I did enjoy reading this book (overall). I sympathised with the characters (especially the woman) but also felt like the book lost its momentum in the last chapter.

- 06/07/2016
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Really enjoyed this book. Partly it’s about artistic expression pressing against conservative, traditional ways of living. It’s also a very simple story of abuse, and the diminishing that abuse can set in motion. It’s also about human suffering and our separation from nature. The central character is kind of haunting. Her ostensible diminishing is the central thread of the whole story, and yet her voice is conspicuous, and appropriately so, by its absence. I read this in a few hours quite a few weeks ago but still remember it vividly now.

- 14/06/2016
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Staff Choice

The premise of this book is simple: a woman – chosen by her caddish husband for being “completely unremarkable in every way” – decides to become vegetarian following a series of horrifying dreams. The effect this has on her family, concerned chiefly with their appearance in the eyes of society, is extraordinary. Written in three parts, each with its own distinct tone and feel, this profoundly unsettling story passes through dark violence and erotic turmoil into a final shimmering transcendence, disrupting every established boundary of animal and vegetable; body and psyche; and the ownership of one's own self. 

Marion, Fiction

Watch our video below, in which Han Kang and translator Deborah Smith discuss The Vegetarian:



Charing Cross Rd Bookshop - 26/11/2015


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