This is a story in three chapters about a woman who is, according to her husband, completely unremarkable – until one day she decides to stop eating meat.
“Before my wife became a vegetarian, I didn’t think of her as anything special. On our first meeting, I didn’t even find her attractive. Average build, bowl haircut, neither short nor long, oily sallow skin, hooded eyelids und prominent cheekbones. I felt neither attracted nor repelled by her and so saw no reason not to marry her.”
Yeong-hye and her husband are completely normal Koreans. He works hard at his office job, and has no ambitions of any kind. Although she lacks passion, she is a dutiful housewife. The agreeable monotony of their marriage is suddenly endangered when Yeong-hye decides to eat only vegetarian food from now on and removes all animal products from the house. “I had a dream,” is her only explanation. A small act of independence. But a fatal one because, in a country such as South Korea, which is governed by strict social norms, vegetarianism is regarded as subversive. But there’s more. Soon, Yeong-hye’s rebellion assumes increasingly grotesque proportions. She had never been fond of wearing a bra and suddenly she starts to undress in public and to dream of life as a plant. Until her whole family turns against her.
The Vegetarian is a story about shame and desire, power and obsession, and about attempts that are doomed to failure, attempts to understand others, who, like oneself, are prisoners in their own bodies.
It is rare for such a bright new literary star to appear. The Korean writer Han Kang, who was born in Gwangju, South Korea in 1970, made her literary debut as a poet in 1993. Her first novel appeared in 1994. She has received the Yi Sang Literature Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award, and, in 2016, the Man Booker International Prize, among others, for her work. She currently teaches creative writing at Seoul Institute of the Arts.
The original Korean edition was published in 2007 by Ch’angbi. The first translation into Portuguese appeared in Brazil in 2013, published by Devir (http://brazilkorea.com.br/livro-a-vegetariana). The English edition entitled The Vegetarian was published by Portobello Books, London in 2015, and the German edition by Aufbau Verlag, Berlin, in 2016. The publishers Publicações Dom Quixote are preparing their own translation for the Portuguese market. The book will be available at all good bookshops in Portugal from the middle of September.