by Han Kang
Review by Jarad Johnson
In this dark and disturbing novel, the reader is presented with the story of Yeong-hye, who, before a series of nightmares, led a distinctly ordinary life. She was married, and, if not happy, at least content. Until the nightmares. Horrible images of blood and gore, haunted her thoughts night and day. To cleanse and purify her mind, she decides to stop eating meat, much to the dismay of her overbearing husband. And in a world where societal norms are strictly obeyed, this subversive act causes a spiraling sequence of violence and scandal, taking ever more alarming and violent forms, including her own father physically assaulting her, knocking her to the ground and shoving pork into her mouth. Her simple rejection of meat unfolds a series of events that threatens to sever her ties with reality and send her spiraling into an ever-more present fantasy world.
This book was a complete surprise. I expected it to be about the ordeals of being a vegetarian in South Korea, since vegetarianism seems to be somewhat taboo there. It turned out to be so much more, a powerful and disturbing book about a woman who feels that she has lost complete control of her body, that she has no free will. The breaking of a cultural taboo is an attempt to explore the boundaries of her own reality. This is an odd book, but worth the trip over the cultural divide to consider the boundaries of human self-determination.
Jarad attends Middle Tennessee State University, loves tea, and tries to spend every spare second reading. Jarad is majoring in English. Bless his heart! Let's all light a candle for him and send him happy thoughts!