The Vegetarian by Han Kang: A Book Review

the_vegetarian_-_han_kang

“Look, sister, I’m doing a handstand; leaves are growing out of my body, roots are sprouting out of my hands…they delve down into the earth. Endlessly, endlessly…yes, I spread my legs because I wanted flowers to bloom from my crotch; I spread them wide…”

If my fellow Filipinos are addicted to K-Pop and K-drama, well, I am now to K-Lit as in Korean literature. If it were not to my list of the 1001 Best Novels of All Time, I would not have known some immortal Korean novels such as Land by Park Kyung-ni and The Taebek Mountains by Jo Jung-rae. Unfortunately, I have not read them yet; I have still been looking for their English translations at book stores here in the Philippines and  their free PDFs on the internet as well. Nonetheless, thanks to my student’s birthday gift Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin, my first ever Korean novel. After that I got the  good chance of reading  some  other Korean fictions :Deep Blue Night by In-ho ChoiThe Dwarf  by  Cho Se-HuiHuman Decency  by  Ji-young Gong, and The Wounded by Yi Chong-Jun,.These books have piqued my interest in reading another Korean fictions .I wish I could complete all the other books published by the same publisher.

Upon catching the glimpse of The Vegetarian  by Han Kang in an Indian book club in which I am a member , I googled it to find its free PDF or giveaways since I still prefer real books. However, the book , after reading it , is not what I had played in my imagination. This is not what a Korean novel with which I am familiar. It is a different genre that does not reflect Korean life and culture as what the other books I have read above. Rather,it is something new:utterly bizarre, preposterous, fanciful, and insipid but awful and impressive.

Its conceptualized story drives me crazy. A woman whose name is Yeong-hye loses her sanity after turning vegetarian. She quits eating meat because she has delusion that she is growing like a plant. Also, she is somewhat an exhibitionist because she takes pleasure in exposing herself naked to the sunlight. Furthermore, Mr. Chong, Yoeng-her’s brother-in-law, has repressed sexual fantasy  for Yeong-he by filming her having sex with the other man ( including himself) , both bodily painted with  flowers.Besides,the details of how Mr. Chong desires to paint Yeong-he’s body a flower with petals are so erotic that I even got a hard-on. (blushing)

I was impressed by the way how Han Kang combined all the events that happened in different time in one story. I am accustomed to reading a novel that has the same events in one chapter. For this reason, it is a challenge for me to patch all the events together in order to understand the roles of the characters as well as the wholeness of the story.

One of the common comments by the book reviewers is that it is well-written. I guess the best words to put it is that it is well-translated. But to put it mildly, there are some unknown novellas or fictions I have read better than this. May I cite Her Resurrection: A Survivor’s Journey of Emancipation, Reclamation and Redemption by Soumyadeep Koley ? How about the other finalists? I wonder if its Korean version must be more impressive.

On the contrary, the other good points above tend to evaporate as there are some snippets that I find deadening and undermining. There are some lines in the conversations that I find just-nothing as in they lose my interest while I am in the state of dawdling curiosity, puzzlement, enthrallment, and excitement. I may be guessing, but it seems like Han Kang may have found those parts essential to the story. How I wish she had deleted or revised them.  If you happen to encounter those parts, feel free to comment here including the snippets I am blabbering about .I am now too lazy to scan them since I read its PDF.  We may turn out to be in the same position after all. Nevertheless, in the context of literary analysis, the feeling, the tone, the emotion, after all, are the embodiment of Yoeng-hye, an insane woman. But still, my subjective reaction stands stationary.

Since the book is a bit ambiguous, there are two questions that I have been trying to answer myself , which, in effect, are  unnecessary; there are still unread books I have to keep up with : (1) If Yeong-he wants to be vegetarian, why can’t her family support her with some alternative veggie food.They can help her find ones  such as what vegetarians do. If they need protein, they can eat vegetarian recipe replete with protein and other nutrients which are usually found in meat. I wonder if this part reflects in Korean family where family members condemn someone who turns vegetarian. In fact, as far as I know, Buddhism, the first religion in Korea, advocates the importance of eating vegetable. (2) What is the relevance of the Mongolian mark to the story? Does Han Kang want to emphasize its implication of the Korean culture?

Off the topic,while reading it, I remembered the time back in university when I attended a one-week youth camp held by a non-government organization from France. The camp was intended for us scholars to be instilled in different development personality training. One of the programs tried to inculcate in us was to how to be vegetarian. Vegetarianism is one of the organization’s causes. So, almost all the meals prepared for us were vegetables without any small mixture of any kinds of meat. They were not even mixed with any seasonings, so they tasted bland. No surprise why my camp mates would frown during meal time. I may not have been used to it, but I tried to force the lump of veggie into my mouth. Besides, I was inspired by our main facilitator, of Chinese extraction, a certified vegetarian, who testified to the benefits of being vegetarian. After that one-week absence of meat in my body, I continued to apply the cause to my life. Believe it or not, I avoided eating any kinds of meat. Whenever my mother served a bowl of viand, I would just ladle out the vegetables added to it. I would only have the good chance of practicing vegetarianism during lunch at school. However, I decided to quit when I came to realize that I was not rich enough to do so. I would have gotten sick of or chaffed by lack of enough protein. Gee, I would have looked patent anorexic, for my weight at that time was 48 kg.

Although I was not much satisfied with the plots and settings of the novella, Han Kang has proved that Korean writers can write something new, a la Haruki Murakami. Besides, I still felt the K-wave, the marvelous , indescribable , invisible  effect  the Korean Ministry of Culture wants to impart to the world as how K-Pop and K-dramas have invaded Asia and some parts of the world. Thus,  I admit that I have fallen in love with Korean literature, and I want to read some more!  Saranggae! 🙂

Rating: 2/ 5 stars ( It’s ok.)

Advertisements

The Man Who Could Not Kill Enough by Anne E. Schwartz: A Book Review

1919345_10206221091788031_3040929295635042686_nYou are on the balcony, taking some rest   after studying for an exam when you notice out the window that there is a man standing beside the light post in front of the building. You will get terrified when you witness him killing a girl. You will get in a panic more when you see him deeply staring and snickering at you. It occurs to you that the man could be a serial killer just the like of the characters you watch in movies. Then, your hair will stand on end when you notice that he points his finger at the ground floor of the apartment building where you stay in. What do you think the man is doing with his finger?

Actually, this is a psychopath test, quite   popular among my Korean students, to determine if you have what it takes to be like Jeffrey Dahmer. (laughs) Read your answer later.

In the past, to determine if one had the tendency to be a criminal was through the shapes of the skull. Cesare Lombroso, the founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology and considered as the father of scientific criminology, argued that criminality was inherited and that the “born criminal” could be identified by physical defects, which confirmed as criminal as“ savage,” or “ atavistic”. According to him, you were cut out to be one if you have the following traits: large jaws, forward projection of jaw, low sloping forehead, high cheekbones, flattened or upturned nose, handle-shaped ears, hawk-like noses or fleshy lips, hard shifty eyes, scanty beard or baldness, insensitivity to pain, and long arms relative to lower limbs. (http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Cesare_Lombroso)However,Lombroso’s theory is considered as a pseudo-science. In short, it has no scientific basis.

When   American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer made an earth-shattering headline across the globe in 1992, the people were flummoxed how they could know if someone they met on daily basis had the tendency to be like him. They could not get around the fact that someone quiet, reserved like him would be able to bestially kill more than 17 people, mostly Blacks, and preserve them in his own house in that no one in the neighborhood had had the idea of his heinous crime. So, many self-proclaimed experts from different   scientific fields bombastically expressed   their   views ad nauseam until the   people got cross-eyed to whose expertise they had to defer. Eventually, there is one thing they were in common- no one can guess whether a person is a psychopath or not because there are many   behavioral patterns. However, Dahmer’s behavioral patterns were unfairly used as the bases, particularly by parents, to preclude a child’s psychopathic tendency. So, you have the tendency to be Jeffrey Dahmer  if you did or do all of  the following :

  1. You  made fun of animals by torturing them when you were still as young as in elementary because you were amazed at the internal organs of a living species. Besides, you wanted to collect their bones and skeletons.
  2. You barely got along with anybody.
  3. You started  drinking   scotch at early age.
  4. You started to read porn magazines as well as porn videos at early age, so you jerked off many times in a day.
  5. You always had financial problem.
  6. You cannot express your sexual preference because of your conventionally filial atmosphere, so you are in the habit of frequenting at gay bars.
  7. You fantasize people whom you want to sleep with.
  8. You were a drop-out student.
  9. You come from a broken family.

Although I was teeming with prejudice, I understood, with the help of my background in clinical psychology, that Jeffrey Dahmer was both a victim and suspect. He was a victim of what is so-called ‘naked existence’ as how Victor Frankl put it in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, when  his parents did not cater to him the  atmospheric LOVE he wanted to feel and  be exposed to. The divorce and conjugal misunderstanding between his parents also added to the fuel of his emptiness. In other words, Dahmer grew up in a world that he was ALONE, where no one guided and admonished him for his delinquent behaviors. Therefore, whatever the   bad foundation built at his early age was the trunk of his life later on in that he became a serial killer. So, who should have been responsible for Dahmer’s life? Himself  or his significant others, particularly his parents?

I am not a true-crime votary, but I had interest in Dahmer’s life story when my best friend kept on telling me about him. His name became immortal when I found out that American novelist Joyce Carol Oates wrote Zombie   based on him. Fortunately, I found this biography

All I would say is that this book is perfect. First, the author is a known and trusted journalist who happened to be the first one to be   tipped off when Dahmer’s skeleton in the closet was found. Second, it is full of  clear but blood-curdling accounts of  how and why Dahmer became a serial killer- from the time he showed latent  behavioral patterns to the time when he was killed. Finally, in all fairness, it knocked my socks off; I could not sleep at that night while reading it. I made sure that I heretically locked my door and windows as what I usually did when I was young whenever I watched crime stories.

The only thing that I cringed at is the author’s nettlesome partiality for the policemen who were said to be incompetent in their job because they missed the fact that the man they were supposed to take over to the authority turned out to be Dahmer’s victim. She argued that policemen were not perfect   and had no any idea of what a serial killer’s behavioral patterns are. Also, she reasoned that it was not easy to be in that line of duty since they stay up late to monitor around the city  at nights.

These are the answers to the   psychopath test above. You are normal if your answer is that he memorizes your face. You are a psychopath if you think that he counts what floor you live in.

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I  was terrified by  it.)

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe: A Book Review

butcher

“All the beautiful things in this world are lies. They count for nothing in the end.”

Patrick McCabe, The Butcher Boy-

You might cringe and boggle at it if you give it a try. The novel is written with very little punctuation without separating the dialogs and thoughts. I could not even follow the exact settings. That is why I put it aside for almost one month. Perhaps I am not used to this kind of writing style. In the end, I have gotten around to it. I have teased its essence out. The writing style is the mental state of the protagonist. Also, the content of the book has satirical meanings.

Amidst the intricate narration, it occurred to me that Patrick McCabe wants to illustrate how a child, unloved, a victim of a broken family for his mother is verbally and physically abused by his sardonic alcoholic father and has suicidal tendency and committed for a mental institute, molested by a priest, ratted on by his only best friend, Joe Purcell, perceives his little world. In the end Francie becomes a psychopath killing Mrs. Nugget.

In the context of satire, the psychological instability of Francie Brady has something to do with the socio-political state of Ireland during the sixties. At that time, there was rapid change as well as ethnic and political violence within Ireland, which is the responsible for molding a dysfunctional family. In addition, the novel alludes to the TOLL TAX, the moral status of the church, IRA, and what not. Only an Irish or World History scholar could best analyze it literally.

Although the book was intentionally written for Ireland, so I could not completely relate to its real socio-political history, the novel is still engrossing. Poor Francie. He bled my heart. If I were Irish, I would give it 5 stars.

If I had long vacation, or reached my retirement age, it would be one of the books I would give a try again. Why not? I liked the creative idea of Patrick McCabe. ^^

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it. )