From the publisher:
On the eve of Angolan independence an agoraphobic woman named Ludo bricks herself into her apartment for 30 years, living off vegetables and the pigeons she lures in with diamonds, burning her furniture and books to stay alive and writing her story on the apartment’s walls.
Almost as if we’re eavesdropping, the history of Angola unfolds through the stories of those she sees from her window. As the country goes through various political upheavals from colony to socialist republic to civil war to peace and capitalism, the world outside seeps into Ludo’s life through snippets on the radio, voices from next door, glimpses of someone peeing on a balcony, or a man fleeing his pursuers.
This book is stunning; poetic and concise, with a bit of a magical feel. This is the story of Ludo, who shuts herself into her apartment by building a brick wall on the even of Angolan Independence. She will stay here for the next 30 years, struggling to survive. First, she uses up her stores, then she begins eating fruit from her terrace, eventually she turns to pigeons for sustenance – all the while burning books and furniture for warmth. Along the way, we are introduced to a variety of players in the Angolan war, as well as one unexpected character who changes the course for Ludo.
This story is told through narrative, prose, and Ludo’s journal entries. There are so many beautiful passages in this book but this one, taken from Ludo’s journal, resonated deeply with me:
I carve out verses
I cut adverbs
I spare my
This is a short and powerful read – a true work of art.
From the publisher:
A beautiful, unsettling novel ion three acts, about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soul Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister’s husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree. Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.
The Vegetarian tells a deeply disturbing story and explores many troubling topics though three succinct parts.
I laughed out loud during moments in part one as they reflected many of my own personal experiences with becoming vegetarian in the 90’s. Similar sentiments were often sent my way – it was bizarre to stop eating meat at that time. Thankfully my family was supportive, but that is not the case for Yeong-hye and we soon get a glimpse into the abuse she has suffered, and how this impacts her emotional well-being. Yeong-hye’s inward spiral progresses as parts two and three shift in narrative, continuing the story from the perspectives of her brother-in-law and sister.
I want to keep this spoiler free, so I won’t say much more. This book tackles topics such as physical abuse, animal abuse, rape, mental illness, and eating disorders. I’m amazed by the story Han Kang has crafted in under 200 pages.