Welcome to the April readalong discussion of The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I managed to read the whole thing during the Readathon, which officially makes it the first and only book I've ever started and completed in one Readathon. Yay! If you chatted about it online with me, thank you! I hope you had a chance to read it and that you'll participate in our discussion.
There is A LOT going on in this under-200-pages novel. Like any brilliant story, the setup is deceptively simple: Yeong-hye, a seemingly ordinary wife, decides to stop eating meat. NBD, right? Well, as her husband says, it wouldn't be a big deal if she was doing it for "socially acceptable" reasons like losing weight or because her doctor told her she should. Instead, she does it because she had a dream–a dream that gradually seems to infect and wreak havoc on the lives of those around her.
And now, onto the discussion questions! Feel free to answer any or all of these, or post your own burning questions in the comments.
- First of all! What did you think of the book in general?
- We never get to hear directly from Yeong-hye except in brief snippets of dream and memory. Why do you think the author tells her story through the lens of other people? Do you think this is effective?
- Yeong-hye says she stopped eating meat because she had a dream. What do you think the dream was actually about?
- Vegetarianism and fasting has been used as a form of social protest in the past, particularly among women (see, for example, "The Awakened Instinct: Vegetarianism and the Women's Suffrage Movement in Britain" by Leah Leneman and The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J Adams). Do you think this is what Yeong-hye is doing? Is she refusing to eat meat in order to stick it to the goddamn patriarchy?
- As the story goes on, Yeong-hye seems to be transforming into a plant herself (or at least wanting to). Is this an art-imitating-life situation? It seems like her husband treated her as little more than a plant to begin with.
- Yeong-hye's brother-in-law may seem more sympathetic to her than her husband, but is he?
- There's a surprising amount of violence, both sexual and physical, in this book. Why do you think that is?
- There are a lot of themes in the novel: obsession, dreams, conformity and acting "normal," choosing to act morally and choosing not to. Which of these themes stood out for you the most?
- Finally, what did you think of the ending? Does it negate the previous sections of the book?
Before putting this discussion to rest, I HIGHLY recommend you read this review of The Vegetarian by an actual vegetarian familiar with Korean culture.
Thanks for your patience this month and get ready for May, when Tif will host a readalong of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.