Book Chat’s rating: ∗∗∗/5

I plowed through the first half of the book but for the second half, I struggled to finish this book… it’s so dark and depressing. The language is too graphic to be enjoyable yet not enough to provoke to thoughts. The concept of the story is very new. The story deals with sexuality, asexuality, inner thoughts and deepest desires, all intertwined with the scarred childhood of Yeong-Hye who is haunted by some horrid dreams one day, and woke up decided to be a vegetarian. Only in the end that we realized, she wanted to be a tree.
The story was told in three parts: the first half is the indifferent husband, the second is the infatuated brother-in-law and the last part was in Yeong-Hye’s sister. With each person, we dig a little deeper into Yeong-Hye’s dreams and mind:
  • Yeong-Hye’s husband married her because she was easy to deal with, she satisfied his needs without having too many requests and demands like other “normal” wives. I honestly thought the story could have been better if Han Kang had kept the story telling in this tone. There is something cold yet objective in the way this husband talks about his wife. He was close to her yet he does not understand her. In this character’s story telling, we see most clearly the patriarchy in Korean culture. I was surprised because this is written in 2007, but clearly gender’s role are still very separated, and it was clear that any rebelling against husband or father is still not acceptable for Korean women.
  • The story told by Yeong-Hye’s brother-in-law is the most disturbing. I kudos Han Kang for her ability to write this part of the story without turning it into a pornographic novel, as said in the novel itself, the line between art and pornography is so fine that it’s hard to tell when you cross it. In Asian culture, sexuality and desire are still taboo that are not well discussed, even though there are group of “open-minded” youth that do not mind the sex, it’s still not easy to bring it into literature.
  • Through In-Hye’s voice, this story has become so sad. While some of us always seeking for something deep inside, to ignore all the reality, there are some other of us still care for the responsibility. In-Hye did not leave Yeong-Hye, could not leave Yeong-Hye and does not know how to leave Yeong-Hye. After all, how could you leave a family member to die when she’s clearly not right in the head? This part of the story clearly tells me that the stress and suffering of the sane is much harder to endure than the insane. Even when you don’t want to eat anything, the people who cares about you still work hard to put food in your mouth.

Overall, I like its weirdness and thought it deserves better than a 3-star for its creativity, but I couldn’t stop wondering about some medical details such as injecting through carotid artery to stop gastric bleeding or injecting nutrition through and artery in the neck!?! I’m not a doctor, but with little knowledge of physiology and anatomy, I thought that carotid artery is to bring blood to the brain, so so inject something to stop gastric bleeding to me sounds very strange. Perhaps something was lost in translation?


Note: I like this book cover better, but couldn’t find one with good resolution to be feature image. It places the woman at the center and the color red is very carnivore-like for the book. The UK cover with the petals and the meat and the fingers, although very impressive, it a little raw for me to digest.

Photo Credit: Book Cover
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published February 2nd 2016 by Hogarth (first published in Korean in October 30th 2007)