“The Vegetarian” Book Review

The Vegetarian
Photo from Goodreads

General

The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Translated by Deborah Smith

Pages: 192 (Hardcover)

Published: by Hogarth February 2nd 2016 (first published October 30th 2007)

Links: Goodreads/Amazon

Overall Rating: 4/5

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books, but that does not have a sway in my reviews. I am a human being with thoughts of her own, and I am not obligated to automatically give this book five stars.

The Review

On Amazon and many other review sites, this novella received three and a half stars out of five. This was shocking because I thought this book was well written in terms of language, imagery, craft, and content. From the reviews, many people disputed the changing of points of view, the language, and the pacing. As a reader, the changing of point of views did not bother me because it was necessary to understand the deterioration of Yeong-Hye’s mind. The first point of view is written from a shallow mind that assesses mental illness as “strange” and “unknowable.” The second point of view romanticizes mental illness, while the last point of view strives to understand and empathize with the struggles of mental illness. The idea of breaking this novella into three parts works because it shows the different societal views of an invisible illness.
In terms of language, I would like to note that this book was translated from Korean to English. Because of it being a translated work, it’s bound to read differently. I noticed the use of terms and phrases that aren’t typically used in contemporary English and as a reader, I had to remind myself that this was a translation and that these terms and phrases are probably used more often in Korean or the meaning of these words have been lost in translation. I wouldn’t judge this book because of the language. With any translated piece, there will be differences and stumbling blocks but as readers, we should keep in mind that difference in language should not keep us from reading a book.
The last point that most people seemed to focus on was the pacing. Maybe I’m just a fast reader, but I finished this book in less than two days. I can see that the pacing changes with each section, but the pacing mirrors the weight each character carries. The first section was fast and easy to read, but the narrator was shallow and his views on mental illness were narrow. The second section wasn’t necessarily a slow read, but it wasn’t as fast as the first section. This could be due to the commentary being told in this section. It romanticizes mental illness and it goes more in depth of the beauty of pain. The last section wasn’t necessarily a fast read, but that’s more so because the content was heavier and it focused on empathizing with mental illness and truly understanding how the mind works. It is easy to say that the pacing “was slow,” but the pacing truly mirrored the transitions between societal views that are focused in the novella.
What truly captured my attention was the cultural telling embedded. South Korea is well known for their views on body image, and it was interesting to see the differences between their culture and American culture. In America, body shaming is less acceptable and the idea of being true to yourself and loving yourself is a topic that is taught through media and everyday life. In the novella, it comments on the perspective that women should look a certain way. Women should always wear makeup, should always wear bras when in public, and should always be demure and submissive. These concepts contrast with most American ideals, so it is interesting to see how this book shows how breaking away from a society that shames the body can be both freeing and detrimental.
The Vegetarian is a beautiful novella that elicits the pain of living in a society that judges a person based off of looks and personality. This book was written well and I truly believe that it deserves more than three and a half stars. If anything, it deserves a full four stars. This story was so unsettling and it showed how cultures can clash and how societal views can be detrimental to those who struggle with mental illness. Do not be fooled by the low ratings on Amazon and read this book. It is truly worth the read.

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“For Today I Am A Boy” Book Review

For Today I Am
Photo from Goodreads

General

 

For Today I Am A Boy by Kim Fu

Pages: 256 (Hardcover)

Genre: Fiction, Queer

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2014)

 

Links: Goodreads/Amazon

Overall Rating: 4/5

Source: Purchased w/ own money

The Review:

Kim Fu’s debut novel For Today I Am A Boy is a poignant story that differs from most Asian American literature. It explores masculinity and the transgendered narrative. This work of fiction was a compelling read. Jam-packed with heavy imagery and beautiful language, I  somehow ended up finishing this book in one sitting, absorbing all the wonders it had to offer. If anything, Fu did an excellent job at drawing my attention and creating a story worthy of engagement.

 

In summary, this novel is about a fictional character named Peter Huang and his journey of fulfilling his immigrant father’s dreams of American masculinity. The setting of the story takes place in different settings such as California, Berlin, and Montreal, but the main point of interest is Peter’s hometown, Ontario, Canada.  Although the subject matter becomes a commentary on western masculinity, I found the writing darkly humorous and incredibly powerful. Fu creates many characters that face the struggles of sexuality in a way that is not only relatable to Asian Americans, but to all people. That I believe is what you call empathy.

 

Masculinity is important in terms of identity for Asian males. The men tend to be the head of the household, so the fact that this story diverts from the typical westernized perspective of machismo culture shows how pivotal it is. It breaks down the idea that men have to be tough and controlling, and it explores the concept of choosing feminity over masculinity. It is worth noting that LGBTQ experiences are still considered taboo in many Asian cultures, so the fact that Fu is able to write about it so bravely is a feat in itself.

Although this book isn’t something I would recommend to my conservative Christian mother, I do believe that it is a novel worthy of discussion. I may not be knowledgeable when it comes to LGBTQ experiences, but I believe that this book offers a valuable perspective and a valid experience. Even if you’re not inclined to read Asian American literature or inclined to read about transgender experiences, I strongly recommend reading this novel because the literature itself is exquisite and it will leave you gasping for air.