“The Vegetarian” by South Korean author Han Kang, originally published in three parts in 2007, became a worldwide success after its translation into English by Deborah Smith in 2015. Author and translator won the International Man Booker Prize 2016.

We picked the book for the first episode of our StoryFusion podcast because we were both fascinated by the dark and disturbing tale of a woman turning her whole life upside down by becoming a vegetarian. Why it’s so interesting from a storytelling point of view? Well, listen to the podcast and find out about the structure and motives of the book!

Note: Due to technical errors, Philipp’s microphone did not work properly during the recording of this episode.

CW: Abuse, mental illness, sexual themes

It can’t be undone. No one can help her. She ate too much meat, and that’s it.

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1:44  – Overview of The Vegetarian’s story

2:44  – The first part of The Vegetarian told by the husband

4:26  – The second part of The Vegetarian from the perspective of the brother-in-law

8:05  – The third part of The Vegetarian told by the sister

Structure and analyses of Han Kang’s story

10:13 – The three parts called the vegetarian, the Mongolian mark, the flaming trees and their genres and structure.

15:11 – Manipulation of the reader

19:20 – The femme fatale and the male gaze

25:00 – “an exploration of sensuality”?

27:00 – Her dream, the trauma, why she became a vegetarian

The motives of The Vegetarian

30:00 – “Her eyes would seem to reflect …” The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffmann

31:00 – Plants, trees, flowers, birds

34:00 – The sisters and family

37:30 – I’m a Cyborg, but that’s okay (2006, a movie by Park Chan-wook) and Kim Ki-duk

The translation by Deborah Smith

40:00 – Reactions on Deborah Smith’s translation: Is the English translation too flowery?

42:00 Recommendations

Philipp’s recommendation: “I am a cyborg, but that’s okay” by director Park Chan-Wook and the The Flaming Green Tree Trilogy by Oe Kenzaburo (unfortunately currently not available outside Japan).

Doro’s recommendation: The films by Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke, as well as “A hunger artist” and “The metamorphosis” by Frank Kafka.

Further reading:

  • Porochista Khakpour: The Vegetarian by Han Kang. The New York Times, Feb 02, 2016
  • Daniel Hahn: The Vegetarian by Han Kang review – an extraordinary story of family fallout. The Guardian, Jan 24, 2015
  • Charse Yun: You Say Melon, I Say Lemon: Deborah Smith’s Flawed Yet Remarkable Translation of “The Vegetarian”. Korea Exposé, Jul 2, 2017
  • Charse Yun: How the bestseller ‘The Vegetarian,’ translated from Han Kang’s original, caused an uproar in South Korea. LA Times, Sep 22, 2017
  • Jiayang Fan: Han Kang and the Complexity of Translation. The New Yorker, Jan 15, 2018
  • Ilana Masad: The Vegetarian by Han Kang tells a dangerously defiant story. The Guardian, Dec 23, 2016
  • Deborah Smith: What We Talk About When We Talk About Translation. Los Angeles Review of Books, Jan 11, 2018


Our title song is “Witchcraft” from “Go fly a kite” (General Electric)