Asian studies in Lithuania
Original language: Korean
Translated from: Korean
Authors: Kang, Han
Translated by: Šiaučiūnas-Kačinskas, Martynas
ISBN: 978-5-415-02460-5
Published in: Vilnius
Published on: 2017
Publisher: Vaga

At first glance book ‘The Vegetarian’ may impose some skeptical thoughts to the reader, but with every page you read through it becomes increasingly clear that this is not a simple story about a woman who does not eat meat. The book is psychologically difficult with such topics as domestic violence and also philosophically challenging, raising questions about the boundaries of human virtue and lust. The extremely grotesque novel forces the reader to contemplate about various social stereotypes and problems.

In the first chapter of the novel, that shares the same title as the book, the narrator is the husband of the main character Yeong-hye. He has this rude and rather primitive point of view upon his wife, whom he scrupulously chose to marry because, in his opinion, she was a plain and simple woman who would not be troublesome. Then out of the blue Yeong-hye announces that she will not consume meat anymore, which leaves her husband astonished as he was not expecting that from her. He is filled with disgust and hatred mixed with shame of his wife after she slits her wrist. The reason why she did that was an absurd and quite provocative scene in which the father of Yeong-hye force-feeds her with piece of pork, resulting in the attempt of suicide. That being said, The Vegetarian chapter contains a lot of comical expressions that shows how narrow-minded and judging the society can be towards people who are somehow different.

The second part of the book, Mongolian Mark, is written in Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law’s point of view. He is obsessed with the thought of her since the moment he learned that she possesses the mongolian mark which remained on her body even in adulthood. Furthermore, the man cannot find peace as he is being torn apart by his colorful and artistic fantasies of Yeong-hye. He seeks to realize this forbidden passion in a video project where, of course, his sister-in-law is the key element. The second chapter is hugely controversial, dealing with such topics as sanity, morality, creativity and eroticism.

In the last chapter of the novel, Flaming Trees, the narrator is Yeong-hye‘s sister. It seems that just a while ago she lived a wonderful and peaceful life. Now she is left asking herself such meaningless questions as “When did all of this started to happen? No, when did everything began to fall apart?” This chapter describes the ultimate metamorphosis of Yeong-hye‘s soul and physical body where she attempts to become a tree. The reader can also see how the characters react to this phenomena, starting with the sister, who is the closest to Yeong-hye, then the doctors and the other patients, who are looking out for her. It is more than obvious that many consider her mentally unstable and try to talk her out of it. Therefore, they are clearly depriving her of the freedom to make choices and control the fate of her body. In the end, as we turn the last pages of the book, they are full of alienation and mystery, analyzing the delicate issues of self-perception, meaning of life and relationships with the family.

Han Kang (born in 1970) is the first South Korean writer to win the prestigious Man Booker International Prize in 2016. H. Kang started the writer‘s path in 1993 when her poems were published in one of a South Korean literary magazine. It is not surprising that Han Kang has chosen the writing career since her mother is a famous novelist in South Korea as well.

Initiators of the project: Japan foundation VDU