The Vegetarian … a review

This book was recommended to me by my voracious reader friend S, who really just wanted to sound me out on what I thought of it. Book won the Man Booker in 2016 and I got a good deal on it on the eBook, so that worked well. Set in modern day South Korea, it traces the life of a young woman Yeong-hye, who decides, simply, to go vegetarian.

Vegetarianism is in vogue right now. Some people do it for healthier lifestyles, and some do it in response to climate concerns. But in many countries, such a choice is seen as a purposeful act of rebellion. This is what happens to our protagonist – none of her family understands her. It is probably inconsequential, but she does it because she has a vision of sorts. The author Kang takes this act of defiance and stretches it to an extreme. There is a very powerful scene where Yeong-hye’s family forcibly try to feed her some meat, and things go very very wrong.

This is the story of each person who is bucking against the norm. The world sees you as an aberration, and an anomaly to be ‘fixed’. They go through denial, bargaining, anger and eventual acceptance. Yeong-hye’s family and relationships are thrown into turmoil. Will they be able to come out unscathed on the other end?

A fine work, one that gave me mixed feelings. The overarching theme is nice, but a number of sub-plots did nothing for me on the whole. S agreed, and we had a nice chat about that. Would I recommend it – yes, even if to confront your own personal unconscious bias toward those who dare to swim against the tide.

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