Han Kang wrote this three-part novella, inspired by her short story Fruit of My Woman, in 2007. Deborah Smith translated the Korean novel into English in 2015 and it won the Man Booker International Award in 2016. The book has been widely read and Ms. Smith has been appreciated for her sincere translation.
The subject and not the protagonist of the novella is Yeong-Hye who turns vegetarian after a gory and bloody dream. The book explores the various dimensions and consequences of this decision on her husband and family. The first section is a narrative by Mr. Cheong, her husband, expressing the havoc the decision wrecks on their family. The second section titled ‘The Mongolian Mark’ delves into the utter neutrality and insanity of Yeong-Hye post her divorce and her relationship with her brother-in-law who remains nameless throughout the story. The third part titled ‘Flaming Tress’ traverses through the past and present of the sisters, their dreams, and their inhibitions.
The story is a dark tale at some levels as it plunges into the depths of cruelty against animals as well as women. It also has a feminist edge to it because the two women/sisters do not wish to conform to societal roles and want to break free from the clutches of patriarchy, one evident example of which is their father.
The narrative is rhythmic and almost musical to the reader’s ears. It has a spontaneous bounce at the end of each sentence that I have never come across in any book. The story floats in front of the eyes and you feel one with the subject, Yeong-Hye.
By the end of the story, the very definition of ‘vegetarian’ undergoes a paradigm shift. The choice of consumption of meat is questioned multiple times and the reader cannot disagree with it. Being a vegetarian in India would not be a hullabaloo but it is a complete change of one’s lifestyle in Korea, the place of the story.
I, as a reader would have loved to hear Yeong-Hye’s voice in one part of the book to get a deeper insight into her decisions, insanity, dreams and reality. In a nutshell, the story is moving tale and should definitely be given a try.
Feature Image Credits: Daily Jstor