Trigger warning: Sexual assault
Wow. I really enjoyed this. The book took a lot of twists and turns and I love how Kang turned it into three separate parts. There were so many terrible characters in this one (Yeong-hye’s husband, her brother in law) that you felt for Yeong-hye and what causes her to turn vegan. I will say that this book maybe would have worked better as a short story. The last third of the book just drags IMHO. I think part 1 was excellent, 2 was good, and 3 was fine.
“The Vegetarian” follows three separate characters (Yeong-hye’s husband, brother in law, and sister) telling the story of Yeong-hye and how a perfectly ordinary woman seemed to transform into something else.
The Vegetarian (5 stars)-This story is told via Yeong-hye’s husband. FYI, the husband is terrible. He talks so much crap about his wife and I was actively hoping this part ended with her boiling him alive. This man does not really care about his wife outside of her cooking him meals and seeing him off at work. When she awakens from a dream and tosses out all of their meat he just thinks she’s being odd. But when she refuses to cook him any meat and even have sex with him (she smells meat on him) things turn darker. And when Yeong-hye’s parents and siblings try to force her to eat meat the whole things turns sideways.
The Mongolian Mark (4 stars)-This is told via Yeong-hye’s brother in law. It’s been about a year since the events in part one. Yeong-hye lived for a time with her sister and her family before moving out to her own place. Her brother in law, an artist, though finds himself transfixed on a so called Mongolian mark that is on Yeong-hye’s body. He finds himself inspired for the first time in a while and increasingly grows obsessed with his sister in law. I honestly didn’t like him because you start to see how he’s manipulated things. Things come to a head and leave readers wondering what comes next.
Flaming Trees (3 stars)-This is told via Yeong-hye’s sister. It’s been almost 2 years I think since the events in part one. Yeong-hye’s whole family except for her sister have abandoned her. Her refusal to eat any meat is causing her to slowly whither away. Considering what transpires in part 2, you wonder why her sister even cares. This one did drag a bit and I was probably missing some things because after a while this whole thing turned into symbolism.
I do agree with some readers that this book really focuses on the horror that family and those who claim to love you can do to you. Yeong-hye deciding to become a vegetarian has repercussions to them all. Her husband had an important business meeting that kind of died right there and then when she refused to eat meat. And it causes everyone to disparage her to her face. It was so rude at times I was like, do people act like this?? And to see how she kind of just isn’t there anymore in parts 2 and 3 was sad to witness. Yeong-hye in essence wants to be a plant or a tree, something that can be safe from harm.