The Vegetarian by Han Kang: Review

41nsvhy8t2bl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Title: The Vegetarian
Author: Han Kang
Genre: Fiction
Country: S. Korea
Rating: 5/5

Yeong-hye begins having vivid nightmares and believes that the only way to abate them is to become a vegetarian. Her culture is very meat-based in meals and she is quickly judged by the public as it’s very unusual to become a vegetarian if not for strict health reasons. Yeong-hye does not seek to apologize for her choice nor does she try to explain any reasons why. Unfortunately, her decision into vegetarianism is not received well by her husband or her family. The men in her life (namely her husband and father) not only reprimand her for her decision but seek to physically punish her as well.

The perspectives Kang chooses are the characters surrounding Yeong-hye. The decision to not give Yeong-hye her own voice in a chapter (although she is given snippets of thoughts) is very important and reflective of the society Yeong-hye lives in. As a woman she is not given a voice and when she finds her voice and exercises her power of control over herself, it’s suddenly an affront to the patriarchal men in her life. Kang’s writing style is brutal and does not shy away from topics of abuse and sexual assault. It’s hard to read at first but necessary as readers navigate the mysterious “why” of Yeong-hye’s choices and our attempts to understand how her life unfolds.

What little of Yeong-hye’s voice and perspective readers get is beautiful as it is disturbing.

“Something is stuck in my solar plexus. I don’t know what it might be. It’s lodged there permanently these days. Even though I’ve stopped wearing a bra, I can feel this lump all the time. No matter how deeply I inhale, it doesn’t go away. Yells and howls, threaded together layer upon layer, are enmeshed to form that lump. Because of meat. I ate too much meat. The lives of the animals I ate have all lodged there. Blood and flesh, all those butchered bodies are scattered in every nook and cranny, and though the physical remnants were excreted, their lives still stick stubbornly to my insides.”

As Yeong-hye seeks to live her life without apology or explanation as is her right, we see her through the lens of her brother-in-law who sexually fantasizes about her. Kang shows how patriarchal cultures automatically sexualize a woman’s body even when the body is not inherently sexual. For instance, Yeong-hye’s decision to not wear a bra is sexualized by her husband constantly and as Kang infers, society. This constant barrage of sexually describing a woman becomes uncomfortable in the first chapter, but readers are forced to see how a personal choice becomes demonized. Socialization can greatly oppress people and in this book it’s apparent with women in particular.

One of the most interesting things with Yeong-hye’s turn to vegetarianism is perhaps her constant parallel to ecofeminism. She’s eaten many lives to sustain her without a second thought. She’s eaten animals who had no choice but to die. In the same vein, Yeong-hye has been socialized to follow the rules: to eat meat without question, to wear a bra, to deny herself. In a sense, society is eating her without her expressed permission. The way that a society treats nature and animals around it can also express itself in the treatment of women. Since the rise of patriarchal tradition, culture, and religion, and the decline of the divine feminine which usually coincides with “mother nature” readers see how women are raised in their own slaughterhouses so to speak. Yeong-hye is abused repeatedly without a second thought or a feeling of remorse from the men around her and the women do not take action and stand up for her directly. The cycle is continuous. Perhaps then the only choice a woman has is when and how she is to die.

Ultimately Kang writes in a way that you will be thinking about The Vegetarian for a long time.

In the Country of Men: Review

63657Title: In the Country of Men
Author: Hisham Matar
Genre: Fiction
Country: Libya
Rating: 4.5/5

Summary
Libya 1979. Nine-year-old Suleiman lives with his parents although his father is frequently out on business trips. During his father’s absence, Suleiman witnesses his mother’s illness flare and listens to her disturbing stories pertaining to the past. One day, while his father is supposedly on a business trip, Suleiman sees him within the city. From that point, Suleiman’s neighbor gets arrested, his father disappears, and a man sits in a car outside Suleiman’s house. The family must do what they can to survive.

Reaction
The writing style of this book is simplistic but it captures so much. Although we are limited to a nine-year-old’s perspective, we witness terrible things innocently. We see Suleiman come to understand the injustices in the world and him coping with witnessing his first death. Suleiman grows as a character within a short span of time.

He has to become his mother’s caretaker at times and tries to bring her out of her illness bouts. He comes to understand the injustices women face in his culture. And most of all, he has to grapple with his own evil. From abusing a homeless man to mocking his best friend, Suleiman has to reconcile his actions to himself.

There are several beautiful quotes within the novel, including some of my favorites:
Grief loves the hollow; all it wants is to hear its own echo. Be careful.
Now dusk, now a parting glance, from the sun leaning fatigued against the hills. Now, blackness.
Can you become a man without becoming your father?
She had always seemed captive, captive in her own home, continually failing to prepare herself for anything else.
“And that was how I knew it was over. A word had been given and a word had been received, men’s words that could never be taken back or exchanged. My eyes were no longer yawning, I could focus well now. I remembered his beatings and felt my back grow taller at the realization that they had forever ended. I looked down at my knee touching his and was amazed at how able and enduring the human body is.”
Nationalism is as thin as a thread, perhaps that’s why many feel it must be anxiously guarded.
Why does our country long for us so savagely? What could we possibly give her that hasn’t already been taken?

When I first began reading this book, I realized that I knew snippets of Libyan history. If you don’t know much about the Libyan revolution before reading this book, take some time and read a little bit about it. It’ll give you better footing and more appreciation for the novel. For all the success Ghaddafi brought the country, there’s always something missing from the narrative, and this book helps fill in the gaps.

Overall, a fantastic novel that I enjoyed and learned a lot from. It’s heartbreaking and very vivid, and I think its brilliant that Matar chose a nine-year-old to tell the story.

Sleeping Giants Review

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Title: Sleeping Giants
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Genre: Sci-fi
Country: Canada
Rating: 4/5

Summary: One day a girl falls into a hole, except that hole is home to a giant hand emitting a strange turquoise light. An unnamed interviewer begins collecting a team of individuals to begin working on finding the missing pieces of this giant figure and on assembling it. Several things do not add up, including the metal makeup of the giant, the weight, and the light emissions. The team works together to discover its secrets and its capabilities, although not without dire consequences.

Reaction: Love. I love the way Neuvel writes this novel. It’s set up on an interview format minus some journal logs, and the dialogue flows so well. It fascinates me that people can write an entire book in dialogue form. The writing style is engaging and it refuses to dumb itself down. The author trusts his readers and the read is deeply rewarding. The cast of characters is diverse in gender and there are plenty of females in powerful positions which in my history of sci-fi books, is rare, very rare. All characters have their own desires and their own respective issues. For a seemingly outlandish book, Neuvel keeps it real with character responses and portraying the human condition in the onslaught of a technological reinassaince.

Aside from being a story, it’s much more than that. It asks questions, hard questions. Would you kill in the name of future peace? How many lives are worth this project? Can other countries really work together and not use a weapon of mass destruction for an offensive strike? Are citizens really expendable to governments? Is it right to alter bodies to perform better even if that meant making unethical changes? Do the people involved in bigger-than-themselves projects have a right to make any choices about their personal selves?

These are questions that we must ask ourselves as society continues making weapons that remove the human from the physical destruction site. These are questions society and governments must ask themselves: who’s worth losing and who isn’t? Neuvel clearly shows that the western world, while promoting “equality” never really believes that everyone is equal to some. He also showcases a very capitalist point of view: you’re helpful to the government until you’re not, then be willing to get cut from the program and tossed out on your own.

The ending is a twist, one I never saw coming. The sequel which comes out in April of this year is a book I’m definitely going to buy.

Some really good quotes that I highlighted in the novel include:

You train your soldiers to kill using video games. They blow enough people up on their computer and it becomes easier for them to kill with a real weapon. Why do you think your government funds so many war and terrorism movies? Hollywood does your dirty work for you. Had 9/11 happened twenty years earlier, the country would have been in chaos, but people have seen enough bad things on their television screen to prepare them for just about anything. We do not really need to talk about government conspiracies.”

I suppose that’s why people are disenchanted with politics. They expect whoever they elect to change their lives.

Every major religion has to adjust to this revelation. Whatever god you believe in can’t just be about humans anymore. He, or she, has to be a god for the whole universe. Heaven, Hell, Nirvana, whatever, all these things have to be rethought, reshaped.”

Redefine alterity and you can erase boundaries.

Give it a read and then give it some thought; it’d be a great book to discuss a lot of topics that plague society today.

Truly Madly Guilty Review

Titl9781743534915e: Truly Madly Guilty
Author: Liane Moriarty
Genre: Fiction
Country: Australia
Rating: 2/5

Summary: Clementine and Erika have been friends since childhood and continue to keep one another in their lives. Erika is the godmother of Clementine’s children, even. But one day when they get invited to Erika’s neighbor’s barbecue, something goes terribly wrong that shapes three families for the rest of their lives. Complete with secrets, dysfunctional families, resentment, and drama, Truly Madly Guilty dives into the ugly and the beautiful of the human condition.

My Reaction: Truly Madly Guilty begins during Clementine’s presentation about what happened at the barbecue through Erika’s perspective. Readers are left in the dark as to what actually happened at the life-altering barbecue until ~60% into the book. Moriarty does not spare any details from the mundane lifestyles of both Clementine and Erika. The perspectives alter in each chapter although the book is written in third person limited.

The mystery of what happened at the barbecue is supposed to fuel the reader’s imagination and interest into the novel, but unfortunately, Moriarty’s need for describing every little detail of every little thing we do in life outweighs the excitement of anticipation. We are left in the dark grappling for: what the hell happened? It’s frustrating and I often wanted to give up on the book.

When it gets to the last 40% of the novel, the pace picks up very nicely. Suddenly readers can spiral into the drama of what happened that day and how / why it changed all three families involved. Compared to the beginning of the novel, the ending is like finally jumping off a plane to skydive while the beginning is like the anticipation but mostly dread of actually getting to the jumping part.

It is the end that saved this book from a 1/5 rating. Moriarty does do very well on describing the human condition and the human psyche but she does it in such a dull, mundane way that I struggled in caring. I did enjoy some of the backstories, mostly Erika’s, but it isn’t a saving grace for the novel by any means.

Unfortunately there were no quotes I liked well enough to highlight and I do not believe this would by any means qualify for literary fiction. There is nothing very insightful that Moriarty gives me as a reader.

The author also has a penchant to tie everything together with a nice little bow on top, and while it’s generally nice that author’s can tie things in together, it’s on the rather dull/obvious side of things. For instance, it’s raining throughout the entire novel until one day it clears up and the sun is out. The metaphor is tiring and trite at best. The other tie-ins are eye rolling ones that aren’t complex at all. And then there are some things, like Clementine’s mother’s resolve at the day of the barbecue that never come to light. There are many things left unsaid or unfinished in the novel.

By the very end things return to the mundane and there were probably about 100 pages of actual good, exciting writing. Not that Moriarty is a bad writer by any means, her prose is generally good by qualifications, but it’s boring and not insightful. But this book could have easily lost 200-300 pages and it would have been a good novella.

Trigger Warnings Review

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Title: Trigger Warnings
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fiction > Short Story / Poetry Collection
Country: England
Rating: 1/5

Summary: Gaiman writes on several different subject matters. The short stories often deal with the fantastical, including fairy tale spinoffs, a Doctor Who short story, and a short story continuation of American Gods following the main protagonist Shadow. The stories are meant to be disturbing and some of them even include tentacled monsters or faceless creatures.

My Reaction: A waste of time. I always love Gaiman’s ideas and I’ve read a couple of his books, but I can never get behind his writing style. It seems trite and elementary most of the time. The title is very misleading and Gaiman includes in his introduction his thoughts on trigger warnings, which in my opinion, shows that he doesn’t understand what TWs are for. In any case, there is hardly anything that could use a trigger warning. He also includes a synopsis of each short story before the stories begin which screams: I don’t trust my readers!

There is no short story that I can say that I remotely enjoyed. The Doctor Who short story is all right, but I found it annoying that Gaiman borrows so heavily from what is already on television. Most of the short stories end abruptly without much explanation which is supposed to add to the air of “disturbances” but it falls short. The characters are hardly worth remembering. I remember Shadow from American Gods, but that’s because I’d already read the novel.

Gaiman has good ideas but his overall ability to achieve a writing style that compliments his genius is lost. I had to really push my way through this book. There were no memorable quotes, probably the best part of the collection was the preface. There were some laughable quotes that, in my opinion, showcase bad writing, such as: “Her ship’s deck would be painted red, to mask the blood in battle.” If Gaiman trusted his readers any, he could easily omit “to mask the blood in battle.” It’s cliche, readers will get your meaning Gaiman, believe me!

I believe this seals the deal on me and Gaiman: we will never be. I truly looked forward to this collection because I love his mind, but … it didn’t pan out.

The Girl with Seven Names: Review

9780007554867_s260x420Title: The Girl with Seven Names
Author: Hyeonseo Lee
Genre: Autobiography
Country: North Korea
Rating: 3/5

Hyeonseo Lee gives readers a glimpse into her life. Born and raised in North Korea, she introduces the outside world to the abuse of her government. Always paranoid and suspicious of others, North Korean members of society must always be vigilant in making sure that they are consistently loyal to the government. Every neighbor is a spy. Even the government officials are on the prowl wanting to catch anyone in a lie or in a position where they are demoted in social status.

In order to survive, many citizens resort to smuggling in goods from China or Japan in order to sell on black markets in North Korea. While frowned upon, most smugglers have money to ensure their safety from the government via bribes. By all accounts, Lee’s position in North Korea is very privileged. She touches on the Great Famine of the 1990’s and how that doesn’t directly affect her food source, but how it affects those less fortunate. Many people die and they die in the public view, and the tragedy of a government that doesn’t respond to the suffering of their people.

Eventually, Lee escapes North Korea and has to endure China’s policies on refugees from NK, which aren’t friendly. She must survive by hiding constantly. Luckily she has assistance but it doesn’t diminish how difficult it is to truly escape NK.

In escaping, she experiences guilt in leaving her family behind. Nevertheless, the human will proves resilient and she learns how to live as best she can where she is.

Lee’s story is dramatic and very lucky. She finds help in unexpected places more than once. It also calls into question a country’s response to someone fleeing from an abusive country/government. Is it moral to turn someone away, to return them back to the dystopian government? Even China expresses remorse for their past policies. Lee navigates this question gracefully but does not shy away from the details that caused her life havoc.

While I learned a lot about how North Korea operates, the reason I give this book a 3 is for the writing style. It’s very straightforward, very bland at some points. Although it’s a page turner, certain things become trite, such as the habit of ending a chapter with something like, “I would soon realize things could get worse.” It happens so often that I often scoffed at the writing. And there are a few threads left untied, which happens, but the book ends rather abruptly.

I appreciate this book in its entirety, however, and recommend it to readers curious about North Korea. I believe we should not make fun of NK based on their success rate of keeping their citizens oppressed. This book made me realize that the people of other countries must make laws to help refugees and people in need; while there may be international laws that aide people like Lee now, we must make sure as global citizens to not let our own rulers close the door to safety. NK is a serious human rights issue and Lee’s account sheds light to that.