Book Review – “The Vegetarian” by Han Kang

The Vegetarian has a striking cover. Shallow though it seems, that was the first thing I noticed and liked about this book. It would catch my eye every time I visited my favorite local bookstore, so I would pick it up and read the dust cover again and again. The premise was interesting, and I don’t have much experience reading the works of Korean authors, but I somehow always talked myself out of buying the book. Luckily, my boyfriend unwittingly got it for me as a birthday gift, most likely because I’m a vegetarian and he thought I could relate to whatever was inside. And I’m so happy he did, because I ended up loving this book –The Vegetarian not because of my personal food preferences, but because it is so very, very good. There are many layers to The Vegetarian, and I imagine it could be interpreted any number of ways; I’m pretty positive I could write an entire critical essay on this book. It is incredibly nuanced, and I felt a range of emotions – some identifiable, some not – while reading. I was mystified. I was hopeful. I was sad. I was genuinely frightened by the time I reached page 15 (though as someone who can’t even watch the preview of a contemporary horror movie without having nightmares, you can take that with a grain of salt). In sum, I was so moved by this book that I was compelled to write a more serious review of it.

The Review:  

Han Kang’s The Vegetarian is a haunting, quiet, and strange piece of literature that both frightens and fascinates from the first page. The three-part story centers around a woman named Yeong-hye whose recurring, carnivorous dreams impel her to renounce meat and and adopt a vegan lifestyle. However, as Yeong-hye becomes more detached from her physical body and the world in general, we see her lifestyle choice slowly morph into something more sinister.

Each section of the book focuses on one person in Yeong-hye’s life as he or she attempts to make sense of her radical behavior. Yeong-hye’s husband, brother-in-law, and sister are the most deeply affected by her actions, and we witness their utter and complete helplessness drive them to make a number of rash decisions, with devastating consequences. Forced to look at the ugliest parts of themselves, those closest to Yeong-hye begin to slide into their own personal versions of madness and despair.

Over the course of the book, even the reader becomes estranged from Yeong-hye’s truest thoughts and motives. While she calmly slips further away from the corporeal world and deeper into the spiritual one, we learn more about the abuses Yeong-hye has faced, and how they have led to this moment in her life. The question is not whether she is losing her mind, but instead whether her method of finding and accepting her truest spiritual self is worth the cost to everyone involved.

Reading The Vegetarian is like stumbling through a dark forest teeming with unknown beasts; there is a monster lurking in the shadows, and only in the end do we truly begin to see its many rows of teeth. Kang has crafted a moving, unsettling, unpredictable story that begs to be read over and over again.

Recommended For:

Those who enjoy magical realism, haunting story lines, and books that can (and should) be read repeatedly.


Book Review – “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty I’ve had Me Talk Pretty One Day on my bookshelf for a long time. Like, since a few years after it came out . . . so I’m talking over 10 years. And I haven’t gotten around to reading it until now. Whoops. I’ve skimmed over this book on my shelf so many times, thinking, “Eh, nah. Not in the mood.” I’ve also nearly donated it on several occasions, but always held onto it because of the sheer number of glowing reviews I’ve heard over the years. Honestly, I’ve also kept it partly because I felt bad for the poor book, just sitting there for so long with no love. Don’t ask me to explain the strange inner politics of the book lover, just suffice it to say that I couldn’t get rid of it.

Well, Me Talk Pretty wasn’t quite as revelatory as I expected it to be, but in all fairness, how could it be after 10 years of buildup? The book was, however, still a very good, short read. It is an established fact that David Sedaris is a hilarious man, a practiced self-deprecator, and a great writer – so, in other words, a good comedian. I found the essays in this book to be consistently funny and succinct. BUT, for some reason, more than once I found myself impatiently checking to see how many pages I had left to read. It may have been because I had unreasonably high expectations for just how funny the stories would be (I imagined I would be rolling around on the floor with laughter the whole time), or because I was a little anxious to start a different book. Either way, though the book was entertaining, I found myself totally engaged in some of the stories and speed-reading through others.

However, I did laugh out loud more than once about tiny, ridiculous little things in the book. I don’t often outwardly emote when reading, but some of this stuff struck me in just the right, silly way. A few shining examples are: David whispering “Go on, scoot! Shoo!” to a huge, unflushable turd someone else left in his friend’s toilet, fearing that he’ll be blamed for its existence. His life in a French village as “the guy who says ‘bottleneck’”/”the grown man who . . . frightens the horses with his screaming”. His dad obsessively squirreling away food, specifically a banana so old it looked like a  shriveled piece of cat crap. These types of things, which are obviously so much funnier in context, and in his offbeat voice, really got me just right.

All in all, despite a few moments of restlessness while reading, I’m glad I never gave Me Talk Pretty away. I’m glad I finally read it, and glad that I waited 10 years before cracking it open, if only for the outdated technological references.

I am also grateful that, thanks to the Sedaris family, I have a “Fuck-It Bucket” full of candy in my house. Read the book to find out what this magical bucket is – it’ll only take you a day, and you won’t regret it.

Recommended for those who want a short, comical, bizarre, silly, and oddly heartwarming read.