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Vegan Horror Story Wins Prestigious Literary Award

Han Kang’s dark, surreal novel The Vegetarian explores the twisted and tragic backlash of one woman’s decision to eschew animal flesh, milk, and eggs.

Psychological thriller The Vegetarian, written by famed South Korean author Han Kang, was awarded the Man Booker International Prize at a ceremony in London early this week. The honor is awarded to one work translated from a foreign language to English—both Kang and the novel’s translator Deborah Smith shared in the $72,000 prize—and The Vegetarian beat out works from other notable authors including one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people on the planet Elena Ferrante and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. The Vegetarian’s surreal storyline revolves around Yeong-hye, a South Korean housewife who stuns and appalls friends and family by rejecting South Korea’s strict societal norms when she refuses to eat meat, eggs, and dairy. Her behavior becomes more baffling and temperament more isolated as she shirks interpersonal relationships, societal expectations, and even her body’s need for food—eventually insisting that all the sustenance she needs comes from sun. The story was called “compact, exquisite, and disturbing” by chairman of the judging panel and literary critic Boyd Tonkin, who praised Kang’s “uncanny blend of beauty and horror.” The Vegetarian is Han Kang's first English-translated work.

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