A few weeks ago on Twitter, I asked for recommendations for books by writers of colour- my TBR pile was very white and very Anglo-centric. I wanted to shift my horizons a bit and this book, by Korean author Han Kang, was probably the most recommended.
It’s a slim, funny little book, told in three parts. All three parts relate to a young woman, Yeong-hye, and the momentous decision she makes the day she decides to become a vegetarian.
Yeong-hye’s life and eventual breakdown are documented through the eyes of three different people in her life: her husband, a pompous and boring little man who enjoys his life ‘just so’; her brother-in-law, who develops a sexual obsession with her after he spots an unusual birthmark; and her sister, who herself feels trapped in her life. Throughout the novel, Yeong-hye’s decision wreaks quiet havoc on her family (vegetarianism is considered somewhat odd in Korea) and her quiet rebellion becomes more and more extreme, eventually culminating in her deciding to become a tree.
It’s a novel of vulnerability and resistance- I did think that there were echoes of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. The slow, unwinding thread of madness as a woman passively protests against the prison built for her by men and the idea that imagination offers an escape.
It’s an odd little book that will stay with me for a long time. I still haven’t stopped thinking about it.