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The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a small novel with a disproportionately large load of controversy.  The translator who helped create the English version of the novel, Deborah Smith, had only begun to learn Korean six years prior to her work on The Vegetarian, and many reviewers who were familiar with the original language were surprised to find numerous mistranslations.  An article from the Los Angeles Times said that Smith’s edits not only resulted in minor mistakes, but also altered the style and tone of the writing.  The main thing that I appreciated about the novel was the writing style, and I found it surprising that the original novel did not have that same flow to it.  A  great deal has already been said about the novel’s translation, but I, too, found it interesting.

Another interesting aspect of the novel was how, although Yeong-hye was the focus of the story, the only direct narration we received from her was from her dreams.  I suppose it’s better for the clarity of the novel to have its main speakers not suffer from an increasingly worsening case of schizophrenia, but it made me wonder if this choice had anything to do with Yeong-hye’s desire to become a plant.  As plants are not capable of speech, they would not be able to narrate a novel, and so, Yeong-hye would also be unable to do so.

I did find myself at odds with the vast majority of reviews that I read.  I agree with reviewers who described how The Vegetarian was strange and so unlike any other novel they had read, and I think there is something to be said about how successful Kang was in writing such a deeply unsettling novel, but it is for those reasons that I did not enjoy reading this book.







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