The Vegetarian is a three-part novel written by South Korean author Han Kang. It was based on an earlier written short story by the author in 1997 titled ‘’The Fruit of My Woman’’. The book was originally written in Korean language and then translated into the English language by Deborah Smith. This book was first published in 2007 by Changbi Publishers (South Korea) and Portobello Books (UK). The 160 pages has since been translated to at least thirteen languages, including French, Chinese, and Spanish.
The Vegetarian is Han’s second book to be translated into English. It received international critical acclaim, with critics praising Han’s writing style and Smith’s translation. In May 2016, it won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. That same year, it was included in Time’s list of best books of 2016. It is considered as Korean best ever translated literature since ‘’Please Look After Mom’’ by Kying Sook Shin. The second part of the novella, ‘’Mongolia Mark,’’ was also awarded the Yi Sang literary prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in South Korea.
The characters in the novel include Yeong-hye (main character), Mr. Cheong (Yeong-hye’s husband), In-hye (Yeong-hye’s sister), Yeong-ho (Yeong-hye’s brother), and an unnamed In-hye’s husband.
The novel is set in Modern-day Seoul. It tells the story of Yeong-hye, a home-maker who one day suddenly decides to stop eating meat after a series of dreams involving images of animal slaughter. This abstention leads her to become distanced from her family and from society. The novel is divided into three parts which are ‘’The Vegetarian,’’ ‘’Mongolian Mark,’’ and ‘’Flaming Trees.’’
The first section is narrated by Yeong-hye’s husband, Mr. Cheong. He explained how he got married to Yeong even though he wasn’t attracted to her at first. They both lived a normal marriage as he himself is just living to live. Yeong always abstain from meat, the matter got worse and Cheong had to invite Yeong’s family. She was then forced by her stern temperament father who ordered her brother and husband to force her to eat pork after a slap. Yeong-hye breaks away, spits out the pork, grabs a fruit knife and slits her wrist. This led to her being rushed to the hospital by the family. Mr. Cheong later admits that his wife is mentally unstable.
Mongolian Mark is told by the husband of Yeong-hye’s sister In-hye. The video artist imagines a love-making between two people, with their bodies decorated with painted flowers. When he learnt Yeong-hye has a birthmark shaped like a flower petal on her body, he forms a plan to paint and record her in order to bring this artistic image to life. His plans came to fruition as he had sexual intercourse with Yeong-hye after modeling for him. She had earlier been divorced by Mr. Cheong. When In-hye discovers the film, she calls emergency services, claiming that both he and Yeong-hye are mentally unwell.
The concluding part, Flaming Trees is narrated by In-hye who has separated from her husband after the occurrence in the last part. She visits her sister regularly who has now been admitted to a mental hospital. Despite receiving high-level treatment for mania, she behaves gradually more plant-like. She has also given up food entirely. When In-hye witnesses the doctors force-feeding her and threatening sedation to prevent vomiting, In-hye bites the nurse holding her back and grabs her sister. The two sisters were then driven to a different hospital by an ambulance.