Writer: Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)
Publishing House: Hogarth Press
Date of Publication: February 2nd 2016 (first published October 30th 2007)
Rating: 5 stars
”Dark woods. No people. The sharp-pointed leaves in the trees, my torn feet. This place, almost remembered, but I’m lost now. Frightened. Cold. Across the frozen ravine, a red barn-like building. Straw matting flapping limp across the door. Roll it up and I’m inside, it’s inside. A long bamboo stick strung with great blood-red gashes of meat, there’s no end to the meat, and no exit. Blood in my mouth, blood-soaked clothes washed onto my skin.”
A young woman decides to stop eating meat to the dismay of her husband and her parents who refuse to agree to an act that is ”out” of the established system. The only people who stand by her are her caring sister and her brother-in-law whose motives are extremely controversial. The consequences of her decision will prove a living nightmare in a social circle that discards the different, the ”unnatural”.
“Why, is it such a bad thing to die?”
Han Kang presents a dark, contemporary fable through three POVs corresponding to the three parts of the novel. The first part is narrated by the husband, the second one by her brother-in-law and the final part (the section that makes the story so powerful, in my opinion) is viewed through the reflections of her sister. The young woman is denied a perspective to accentuate her isolation within her social circle that is unable to understand that things have changed. The voices of the three characters are distinct. The husband is a heartless man, her lover is confused and the sister is a compassionate, understanding woman who becomes the sole support to a soul that wants to live by her rules.
“The feeling that she had never really lived in this world caught her by surprise. It was a fact. She had never lived. Even as a child, as far back as she could remember, she had done nothing but endure.”
Kang’s writing is beautiful, raw and poetic. Even though the heroine doesn’t share her thoughts with us, we come to understand her clearly and I deeply sympathised with her. She wants to love according to her choices, to feel loves, to defy a tyrannical father and a pathetic husband. The story is a violent, realistic allegory that has nothing to do with vegetarianism. I couldn’t care less about it. For me, what matters is what comes out of our mouths and not what goes in and pseudo-verbal revolutions do not amaze me. I don’t buy, sorry.
Kang weaves a tale that is multilayered and powerful. Sensuality, identity, independence, Art, Psychology, Nature, instinct. These are the ingredients of one of the finest books of our times. Han Kang created a contemporary masterpiece. Yes, it’s dark and ”strange” and often hard to stomach. These are the characteristics of the best books. And this is a formidable story of obsession, independence and womanhood and a worthy winner of the Man Booker International Prize.
”Dreams of murder…
Murderer of murdered…hazy distinctions, boundaries wearing thin. Familiarity bleeds into strangeness, certainty becomes impossible. Only the violence is vivid enough to stick. A sound, the elasticity of the instant when the metal struck the victim’s head…the shadow that crumpled and fell gleams cold in the darkness.”