DiscoverThe Booker Prize PodcastIntroducing July's Book of the Month: The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Introducing July's Book of the Month: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Introducing July's Book of the Month: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Update: 2023-07-06


Warning: this episode contains references to suicide.

The Vegetarian, an International Booker Prize winner and the first of Han Kang's books to be translated into English, explores shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand each other. In 2016, the International Booker Prize moved from a bi-annual award recognising an author's body of work to a prize that celebrated an individual book translated into English, giving its author and translator equal billing – The Vegetarian was the first novel to win the revamped prize, and this month we're revisiting the story to explore it more deeply.

In this episode Jo and James chat about:

  1. Jo and James' best and worst ever meals, spurred on by the omnipresence of food throughout The Vegetarian

  2. A slightly spoiler-y account of what happens in the novel and whether it's about Korean society and the pressures faced by women living under the patriarchy... even though the author has stressed that this isn’t the case

  3. Whether Yeong-hye, the book's protagonist, is “mad” or not

  4. The nuances of translating fiction, including the controversy that riled people up to such an extent that it was dubbed “Han Kang-gate”

  5. Who should read The Vegetarian

  6. The Booker Clinic: a segment where we recommend books in response to listeners' dilemmas. This week: books to ease your guilt if you're conducting an illicit affair

Books discussed in this episode:

  1. The Vegetarian by Han Kang

  2. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

  3. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

  4. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

  5. The Stranger by Albert Camus

  6. The Maples Stories by John Updike

  7. Heartburn by Nora Ephron

  8. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  9. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Further resources:

  1. ‘Raw and Cooked’ by Tim Parks for The New York Review

  2. ‘Lost in (mis)translation? English take on Korean novel has critics up in arms’ by Claire Armitstead for The Guardian

  3. ‘How the bestseller “The Vegetarian,” translated from Han Kang’s original, caused an uproar in South Korea’ by Charse Yun for the LA Times

  4. ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Translation’ by Deborah Smith for Los Angeles Review of Books

  5. Hong Sang-soo on MUBI

  6. The Handmaiden, directed by Park Chan-wook

A full transcript of the conversation is available on our website here.

If you've got a problem you'd like some literary help with, email us at using the subject line “The Booker Clinic”.

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Introducing July's Book of the Month: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Introducing July's Book of the Month: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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