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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Why she won't eat meat: The Vegetarian

Han Kang's "new" "novel," The Vegetarian, is in quotes becasue apparently it was published as three separate stories or short novels in 2007 and is now brought out in translation as a single novel, so who knows? (Kang is South Korean, and writes in Korean, though she has spent time in the U.S., including Iowa grad schoo; I know nothing else about her publishing history, but this does not seem to be her first novel - she's about 45). Judging by the first section, so far it's a totally odd book: narrator describes himself in a totally self-deprecating manner, he's a 30-something guy working in sales of some sort - never describes exactly what he does, but works very long hours - and he is married to someone whom he describes as totally ordinary in looks, demeanor, ambition - he hardly seems to be in love w/ her at all, it's as if he married not for love, sex, family, status, but simply to have someone nearby to cook and clean, a servant basically (not that he abuses her or is cruel in any apparent way, either). One day all of a sudden she announces that she will never again eat meat, and she disposes of all the meat (including poultry and fish) and begins serving a vegan diet - apparently quite unusual in Korea at that time and maybe still. This decision, which she doesn't explain except to say she "had a dream" leads to complete alienation from husband and from her family (sibs and parents) and to some kind of nervous breakdown. Interpolated w/ this fairly straightforward narrative account of a woman in deep mental crisis Kan includes several italicized passages, which are the inner thoughts of the wife (some of which she may or may not have spoken aloud to the narrator) and these present ghastly imagines of eating blood-red meat, of animal torture, and so on, giving us strange access to her consciousness and some understanding of her actions - but not of why she's so withholding and doctrinaire.

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