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Vegan Novel Takes Home a Literary Award

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Don’t let the title fool you – this award winning book is about striving to live a life devoid of  violence.

VegNews reports that Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was awarded the Man Booker International Prize in London this past week. The dark, surrealist novel centres around Yeong-hye, a South Korean housewife who shocks her loved ones by rejecting meat, eggs, and dairy after having violent nightmares. The backlash that follows paints a narrative of isolation, and eventual insistence that she can get sustenance from the sun alone, as she believes she’s becoming a tree. She probably just didn’t have access to vegan cheese, what most vegans survive on (now that’s scary).

In speaking about the meaning behind her work, Kang told NY Times: “I was thinking about the spectrum of human behavior, from sublimity to horror, and wondered, is it really possible for humans to live a perfectly innocent life in this violent world, and what would happen if someone tried to achieve that?” A beautiful sentiment that criticizes the capitalism that makes it nearly impossible to not contribution to any violence today. 

This was the first of Kang’s novels to be translated, with decades of her previous works well known in South Korea. Deborah Smith had the honour of bringing The Vegetarian to English readers, and the two share in the $72,000 prize (approx. 50,000 pounds). We can’t help but wonder why The Vegan wasn’t the first choice for a title, but it was originally published over a decade ago when vegetarianism was still more well-known.


Photo of Han Kang, from The New York Times

Kang beat out 154 other novels, and notable authors like Elena Ferrante and Noble Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. The chairman of the judging panel called the story “compact, exquisite, and disturbing,” while literary critic Boyd Tonkin praised Kang’s “uncanny blend of beauty and horror.” The fictional work probably won’t sway people to fear a vegan lifestyle, and it’s another way the popularity of the movement has leaked in to pop culture. 

Photo from Amazon

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