The Vegetarian by Han Kang


I remember spending summer holydays at my grandmother's house. By the time all the farm work was finished the family sat down to dinner rather late, sometimes as late as 9 p.m. I decided not to eat so late and they were all baffled by my decision. My grandmother was worried I might get sick, but eventually they stopped fussing about it. It wasn't that much of a big deal. I remembered that when I read the synopsis of The Vegetarian by Han Kang somewhere on the internet. It said it was the story of a woman, Yeong-hye, who decides to stop eating meat. Her decision surprises and angers her family. However, the story isn't just that. It's much, much more.

The Vegetarian is a short novel of only 183 pages, written in three parts which can be read as separate short stories. Each of them is written from a different point of view (husband, brother in law and sister). We learn about Yeong-hye becoming vegetarian indirectly, from other people. Her cold husband who can't come to terms with her not eating meat and ultimately leaves her, the artist brother in law who includes Yeong-hye in his work of art and her sister who at the end commits her to a mental hospital. It's a dark story, there are some violent parts: domestic violence, force feeding, sexual violence within marriage. It's not described in detail, it doesn't have to be, but it's there. The book got me thinking. Some time ago I read an article about women being committed to asylums in the past, the reasons being postnatal depression, stress or overactive libido. They were labelled insane for conditions which were socially unacceptable at the time, but are now considered differently. Yeong-hye's vegetarianism is socially unacceptable, it puts her family to shame, so in their eyes she's a mentally ill person. Instead of thinking about it or accepting her decision, they shift the blame onto her. We can substitute the vegetarianism with any nowadays unacceptable behaviour women, or people in general, are looked askance at or persecuted. However, there's more to Yeong-hye's not eating meat and where it leads, why she did it and what she wants. 

I rather enjoyed The Vegetarian. I think it can be read as it is or it can get the reader thinking about the society we live in. I loved Han Kang's writing or perhaps it is partly due to translation. The book won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, shared by Han Kang and the translator Deborah Smith. I read some reviews of Han Kang's other books, Human Acts and The White Book and I'm definitely going to check them out.


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Že nekaj let ne večerjam po šesti uri zvečer. Spominjam se dogodka, ko sem pred leti preživljala poletne počitnice pri babici. Kmetijska opravila so se nekoliko zavlekla, kar niti ni presenetljivo, tako da je družina po navadi sedla k večerji precej pozno, tudi ob devetih. Moja odločitev, da preskočim tako pozno večerjo je vse presenetila, babico je celo skrbelo, da bom zbolela, vendar so se počasi umirili in se nehali ukvarjati s tem. Tega sem se spomnila, ko sem pred časom nekje na internetu brala o Vegetarijanki. Pisalo je, da gre za zgodbo ženske, Yeong-hye, ki se odloči, da ne bo več jedla mesa. Njena odločitev preseneti in razjezi člane njene družine. Vendar pa to ni vse, kar bi človek lahko povedal o zgodbi. V njej je še veliko več.

Vegetarijanka je kratek roman, napisan v treh delih, ki se lahko berejo kot samostojne kratke zgodbe. Vsak del je napisan iz perspektive druge osebe: moža, svaka in sestre Yeong-hye. O njeni odločitvi tako izvemo posredno, od drugih ljudi. Njen hladni mož, ki se ne more sprijazniti s tem, da žena več ne je mesa, jo na koncu zapusti, svak, umetnik, Yeong-hye vključi v umetniško delo, sestra pa jo zapre v umobolnico. Zgodba je temačna, vključuje tudi nasilje: nasilje v družini, prisilno hranjenje in spolno nasilje v zakonu. Ni podrobno opisano, niti ni treba, da bi bilo, vendar je tam. Knjiga mi je dala misliti. Pred časom sem brala članek o ženskah, ki so jih v preteklosti zapirali v umobolnice zaradi poporodne depresije, stresa in prevelike želje po spolnosti. Za duševno bolne so jih označili zaradi za takratni čas družbeno nesprejemljivega vedenja. Tako vedenje se danes obravnava povsem drugače. Vegetarijanstvo, za katerega se odloči Yeong-hye, je družbeno nesprejemljivo. Njena družina se tega sramuje, nekaj ni v redu z Yeong-hye, če se lahko spomni kaj takega, zato je v njihovih očeh bolna. Namesto, da bi o vsem razmislili ali sprejeli njeno odločitev, odgovornost prevalijo na Yeong-hye. Vegetarijanstvo lahko zamenjamo s katerim koli danes nesprejemljivim ali problematičnim vedenjem, zaradi katerega ženske ali ljudi na splošno družba gleda postrani ali jih preganja. Ne glede na to, je v odločitvi Yeong-hye, da ne bo več jedla mesa veliko več, ravno tako v razlogih zanjo.

Knjiga mi je bila všeč. Menim, da se jo lahko bere tako kot je, lahko pa bralcu da misliti o družbi, v kateri živimo. Všeč mi je bilo pisanje Han Kang, vendar je tu verjetno treba upoštevati tudi delo prevajalke. Vegetarijanka je leta 2016 prejela nagrado Man Booker International, ki sta si jo razdelili Han Kang in prevajalka Deborah Smith. Tudi druge knjige te avtorice bom z veseljem prebrala. 



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