The Vegetarian Background

The Vegetarian Background

The Vegetarian is a novella in three parts written by Korean author Han Kang. First time published in Korea in 2007, it received an uneasy reception and was thought to be both bizarre and extreme. The novella is based on a short story Han had written ten years previously; "The Fruit Of My Woman" was about a woman who had become a plant and the novella was a slight reworking of this that was darker and more threatening.

The novella is divided into three sections that detail the strange consequences of a seemingly innocuous decision, that of becoming a vegetarian. The first part, "The Vegetarian", tells of what happens when the main character, Yeong-hye, gives up eating meat after having a gruesome nightmare about the brutality of the meat trade. Her decision does not go over well within her family and her father taunts her so much that she is driven to slash her wrists. The second part, "Mongolian Mark", focused on Yeong-hye's brother in law, who is obsessed with her and whose own marriage suffers because of this obsession. The final third of the book, "Flaming Trees", chronicles the descent into madness that follows from Yeong-hye's decision to become a vegetarian, and her decision to become a plant to avoid the brutality of humans is seen as an advanced case of mania.

The novella was translated into over thirteen languages but its most successful translation was Deborah Smith's translation into English in 2015. This catapulted the book into the international scene and was the recipient of the Man Booker Prize in 2016. It was also included in the list of best books of 2016 in Time magazine.