The Vegetarian Book Review

The Vegetarian book cover
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…

What happens when you combine Korean culture, an unfulfilling marriage, and a bad dream? Apparently schizophrenia and destroyed families is your answer.

This is a story about a Korean woman that is ordinary in every which way. Her husband married her because she is so plain and typical. In short, he settled hardcore. It was not a marriage of love, but more of a business partnership. He has his expectations.

So when his wife has a terrible dream and decides to stop eating meat, he freaks out. Her family freaks out. Everyone freaks out!

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The book is organized into three parts with differing perspectives. The first is from the husbands point of view. The second, the wife’s sister’s husband. The third is from the wife’s sister. Got that?

When she refuses to eat meat, her family gets angry. In particular, her father loses his temper and tries to shove a piece of meat into her mouth. She freaks out and cuts her wrists. She then catches the eye of her sister’s husband who decides he really needs to paint flowers on her naked body and take photos/video of the process. Once his wife discovers this little secret, he tries to leap off the balcony but fails. Now instead of just being a vegetarian, she has evolved into being a tree and doesn’t need anything except water.

So what is this book trying to portray? Korean guilt/shame is a big flag in this one. It might be a commentary on how ridiculous people act when they are pressured to follow societal norms and it doesn’t quite work out for them. The vegetarian part might be oppression against being a housewife that is expected to prepare all the meals. The flower painting section could be about how self-expression is not appropriate for this type of culture and that your role in culture is more important than your individual needs. The third part about being a tree – to me this is about saying “f-it” and doing what you want even though it is ridiculous, so why not put on even more of a show. If you’re going to be unhappy, might as well explore deep to find some sort of rooted satisfaction, even if it isn’t part of reality.

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