Books of Note: WEEK #11 & #12 – The Vegetarian by Han Kang and The Pearl by John Steinbeck

 

11 weeks into my 2017-52-book-challenge and I am right on track; I read book #11 and #12: The Vegetarian, a post-modern erotic drama from South Korea, and The Pearl, a classic US parable by John Steinbeck.

What they are about:

The Vegetarian: The downfall of a family after the youngest daughter decides to become a plant.

The Pearl: A fisherman´s family´s downfall after he finds an invaluable pearl.

Why they matter:

The Vegetarian won the prestigious Man Booker International Prize in 2016. Actually it became the first recipient of the award after its reconfiguration in 2015, prior to which it was awarded to an author’s body of work rather than a single novel. In addition, the Vegetarian became one oft he most read Korean modern novels in the western world. Who would have thought that about a book that is about a mentally unstable woman who wants to become a tree? The language of this book is beautiful and poetic and dives so deep into the sick psyche of his characters that it becomes unbearable to read at times.

The Pearl was heavily influenced by Steinbeck’s interest in the philosophy Carl Jung and his archetypes. Steinbeck wanted to address the themes of “human greed, materialism, and the inherent worth of a thing“. The Pearl is still part of the literary canon in most US colleges and regarded as one of Steinbeck´s finest works. If Grapes of Wrath is too long for you as an introduction to Steinbeck, try this one and see if you like him.

A town has a nervous system

Favourite Sentences:

The Vegetarian: “Even as a child, In-Hye had possessed the innate strength of character necessary to make one´s own way in life. As a daughter, as an older sister, as a wife and as a mother, as the owner of a shop, even as an underground passenger on the briefest of journeys, she had always done her best.”

The Pearl: “A town is a thing like a colonial animal. A town has a nervous system and a head and shoulders and feet. A town is a thing separate from all other towns, so that there are no two towns alike. And a town has a whole emotion.”

Storytelling elements:

The Vegetarian is told in three different parts with three different narrators; narrated respectively by the protagonist’s husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister. This gives the reader a 360 degree view oft he protagonist´s psyche and her slow decay.

Humans should be plants

Some trivia:

Han Kang, the author of the vegetarian, first got the idea for her book at university when she was writing about vegetation and she stumbled over a quote saying that all humans should be plants. Han Kang: “While writing The Vegetarian, I was harboring questions about human violence and the (im)possibility of innocence. On the reverse side of the protagonist´s extreme attempt to turn her back on violence by casting off her own human body and transforming into a plant lies a deep despair and doubt about humanity.“

Inspiration is everywhere.

What others said:

“It’s a bracing, visceral, system-shocking addition to the Anglophone reader’s diet. It is sensual, provocative and violent, ripe with potent images, startling colours and disturbing questions.

– Daniel Hahn, The Guardian about The Vegetarian

“The Pearl is a triumph, a successful rendering of human experience in the round, in the most economical and intense of forms.”

– Howard Levant about the Pearl

 

Two beautiful books written in a beautiful languages.

The journey continues.

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