I really wanted to adore Han Kang’s books, The Vegetarian and Human Acts. Not only is the author Korean and writing about Korean characters (#ownvoices), she’s writing fabulous stories. The Vegetarian explores Yeong-hye’s renouncement of eating meat which disrupts her marriage and sets into motion a strange chain of events at home. Human Acts is a fearless portrait of political unrest and the universal struggle for justice. Both books were first published in Korean and later translated by Deborah Smith. I applaud #ownvoices, #diversity, and translated novels. However, I have to DNF both of these. They both begin slowly and quite boring for such interesting topics. So I’m blaming the writing or rather the translation. Interesting to note that The Vegetarian has been nominated for the 2017 PEN Translation Prize.
Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.
A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another. (Goodreads)
In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.
The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.
An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity. (Goodreads)