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Pound of flesh: Annetjie van Wynegaard reviews The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

This South Korean novel addresses the plight of women everywhere, writes Annetjie van Wynegaard for the Sunday Times

The VegetarianThe Vegetarian
Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith (Hogarth)
*****

South Korean author Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian is about what women put up with for the sake of being perceived as normal. It’s about crossing boundaries — both mental and physical — and severing the familial ties that bind you to society.

The novel starts when Yeong-hye — up until this point a docile, unremarkable wife, according to her husband — decides to become vegetarian.

The first vignette is told through the eyes of her husband who finds her in the kitchen late one night, discarding all the meat products she can find. When he brusquely asks her what on earth she’s doing, Yeong-hye gives a simple yet startling reply — “I had a dream.”

Kang cleverly sketches the different sides of Yeong-hye’s gradual decline through the eyes of her brute of a husband, her lewd brother-in-law, and her sister, the epitome of the submissive wife and mother.

The reader catches brief glimpses of Yeong-hye’s thoughts and feelings through her disturbing dreams, but this insight dissolves as she locks herself inside her body, away from the world. The first part culminates in a family lunch that takes a violent turn when Yeong-hye’s family try to force-feed her morsels of meat.

The second part of the novel takes place two years after the events of the first and is told from the perspective of the brother-in-law. He becomes obsessed with Yeong-hye’s birthmark and what follows is his feverish obsession to make her body the canvas for his erotic fantasies.

In the final chapter — through the eyes of perhaps the person closest to Yeong-hye, her sister In-hye — we see the total disintegration of Yeong-hye’s body and mind. As she watches her sister waste away, In-hye remembers a moment when she too attempted to escape. She realised how easy it is to lose yourself: “Perhaps, at some point, Yeong-hye had simply let fall the slender thread that had kept her connected with everyday life.”

Deborah Smith’s translation captures the poetic simplicity of this short novel, which was published in 2007 and recently received the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.

The Vegetarian is foremost a story of abuse, rebellion and taboo. A simple act of swearing off meat causes Yeong-hye’s family to react violently; each person in turn asserting their right to control her body. No one knows how to handle her “disobedience”; going against the wishes of your husband and father is not something that you do in Korean culture. Yet, it’s her “otherness” that inspires her brother-in-law to pursue his innermost desires.

It’s quite fitting then, that Yeong-hye never speaks for herself in the novel but rather speaks through the metamorphosis of her body, from docile to defiant, a site of struggle and protest. The Vegetarian shook the ground I walked on. It was a necessary awakening.

Follow @Annetjievw

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All the 2016 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award shortlistees

2016 Alan Paton Award shortlist
Alan Paton Award

 

The winners of the Sunday Times Literary Awards will be announced on Saturday, 25 June, 2016.

The Alan Paton Award will be bestowed upon a book that presents an “illumination of truthfulness, especially those forms of it that are new, delicate, unfashionable and fly in the face of power”, and that demonstrates “compassion, elegance of writing, and intellectual and moral integrity”.

Who do you want to take the award? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below!

The 2016 Alan Paton Award shortlist finalists are:

JM Coetzee and the Life of WritingPapwaTo Quote MyselfRapeShowdown at the Red Lion

 
Click here for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist
 

Read interviews with all the shortlistees:

Brazilian edition of Futhi Ntshingila's Do Not Go Gentle published

Sem GentilezaThis week sees the publication of Futhi Ntshingila’s second novel, Do Not Go Gentle, into Portuguese. Brazilian publishers, Dublinense have translated the novel into Portuguese and now it is out.

Both Gustavo Faraon and I were participants in the 2012 Frankfurt Invitation Programme, which is where we met and when we met to look at each other’s catalogues the following year, the seeds of this translation project were sown. Here is the English translation from google translate of the press release put out by Dublinense on June 22nd, 2016.

“This is not just any book.
Without kindness (Direct Translation of Sem Gentileza – the Portuguese title) was written by Futhi Ntshingila. She’s a South African. She’s Zulu.

Although so rich in features – and here counted with the paints only a culture that is not our own, from an imaginary one so different and in a way so own -, stories very similar to this sprout for all corners of the world. Are stories of women who have not been given a choice not to be resist and try, like her, preserve her own integrity.
Women that need to be strong – only because they are women.

The journey that led to the publication of this book began, in fact, to meet the publisher modjaji books, from Cape Town, and his incredible publisher militant Colleen Higgs. The Publisher, baptized in tribute to the goddess of the rain, there is to give space to the South African women, whose voices vibrant remained relegated to the sidelines and in the shade since forever.

This editorial project was really inspiring to us. And it seemed clear that it was necessary to bring the books that Colleen edited for an even bigger audience, to Brazil, for you. We were reading and analyzing various titles, and it was clear that the stories could be unique, but together they reflected an issue that is not limited to a specific region or culture. And so we come to this novel which we believe to be very representative.

Our Brazilian edition in Portuguese of without kindness is the first in a foreign language. The own author now is dedicated to translate it to isizulu.
That is why, for us, this is not just any book. It points to something that we want to pursue.

That this book find many readers and readers in Brazil, and that this will allow us to continue bringing many other stories that help to give a voice to those who do not have.”

Gustavo Faraon of Dublinense at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015

Gustavo Faraon of Dublinense at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015

We hope that Futhi will be invited to a literary festival and will be able to go to Brazil later this year to meet her new audience.

As the press release says, Modjaji is looking to bring out an isiZulu edition of Do Not Go Gentle in 2017. Futhi is doing the translation herself. Watch this space!

Do Not Go Gentle

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Jacket Notes: Brett Archibald tells the story behind his book Alone - lost at sea and forced to swim for over 28 hours

nullAloneAlone: The Search For Brett Archibald
Brett Archibald (Jacana Media)

On the day of my rescue, where I spent close to seven hours with the Aussie blokes aboard the Barrenjoey, I scribbled down everything I could remember of being lost at sea and forced to swim for over 28 hours in the Indian Ocean. I was then re-united with my friends on the Naga Laut, and over the next 10 days we spent hours sharing the stories and recounting our feelings, emotions and thoughts of my time being lost in the ocean.

I soon realised that there were a number of uncanny comparisons between our trip and those of the lads on the Barrenjoey. We were nine mates on a surf trip to celebrate a 50th birthday; they were too. Our trip had been dogged by a number of mishaps; theirs had too. It seemed to be a tale that was meant to be told. My main objective was always to document the details for my young children, as I knew that the enormity of what had happened to all of us was beyond their comprehension at the time. I wanted the full story to be available for them to read as they grew up.

Fortuitously, I had found a wonderful author with whom I felt an immediate connection, and who agreed to write the story. Over a year I spent almost every morning at her house exploring the nuances and depths of my memories and arranging for her to conduct interviews with the people involved.

The process itself was a form of extended therapy for me. Reliving my experiences in the finest detail was a deeply moving process, though at the time mostly subjective. It was only on reading the full manuscript some 12 months later that the fuller picture unfolded for me and I came to grasp the magnitude of what had transpired during my time in the ocean.

The inexplicable unity of people from around the world who had prayed for me or sent wishes via the “Searching for Brett Archibald” Facebook page blew me away. Over the past three years, I have gone on to learn these amazing stories from people all over the world, many of whom I had never previously met, who played some role in this crazy drama.

They all affect me and contribute to my comprehension of my experience. There is simply no way that a person can spend 28-and-a-half hours thinking he is going to die, and then surviving by the slimmest of margins, without gaining a completely new perspective on life. I get to contemplate this thought every day.

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PE Book Launch: I'm the Girl Who Was Raped by Michelle Hattingh

I'm the Girl Who Was RapedMichelle HattinghFogarty’s and Modjaji Books invite you to the Port Elizabeth launch of I’m the Girl Who Was Raped, a memoir by Michelle Hattingh. The author comes from Port Elizabeth, so she is back in her home town talking about her incredibly courageous book.

“Compelling, clear and beautiful writing on such a necessary topic. She shatters rape myths on every page.” Jen Thorpe, gender activist and author of The Peculiars.

“Many people think middle class women are magically immune to rape or that if they are raped their easy access to the resources they need will be everything they need to recover completely. A book that discusses the cross cutting nature of the pain all women must feel when a man rapes them can only be welcomed in a time when communities across South Africa struggle with high rape rates.” Kathleen Dey of Rape Crisis

More about the book:
That morning, Michelle presented her Psychology honours thesis on men’s perceptions of rape. She started her presentation like this, “A woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read …” On that same evening, she goes to a party to celebrate attaining her degree. She and a friend go to the beach; the friend has something she wants to discuss. They are both robbed, assaulted and raped. Within minutes of getting help, Michelle realises she’ll never be herself again. She’s now “the girl who was raped.”

This book is Michelle’s fight to be herself again. Of the taint she feels, despite the support and resources at her disposal as the loved child of a successful middle-class family. Of the fall-out to friendships, job, identity. It’s Michelle’s brave way of standing up for the women in South Africa who are raped every day.

About the author:

Michelle Hattingh was born in South Africa in 1988. She attended school in Port Elizabeth and studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Stellenbosch University. She went on to do her Honours in Psychology at Cape Town University and now lives in Cape Town. Michelle works as senior online content producer at Marie Claire SA. Her work has been published in Elle SA, Marie Claire SA and Mail & Guardian. I’m the Girl Who Was Raped is her first book.

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 12 May 2016
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: GFI Gallery, 30 Park Drive, Central, Port Elizabeth
  • Guest Speaker: Emily Buchanan
  • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine and snacks
  • RSVP: Fogarty’s, fogartys@global.co.za, 041 368 1425
    www.modjajibooks.co.za

I'm the Girl Who Was Raped
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Wits paleoanthropologist Lee Berger among TIME's 100 most influential people in world

lee berger homo naledi time 100Field Guide to the Cradle of Human KindWits University paleoanthropologist Professor Lee Berger‚ renowned for his discovery of Homo naledi and Australopithecus sediba‚ among other achievements‚ appears on TIME magazine’s 2016 list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

The list‚ now in its 13th year‚ recognises the activism‚ innovation and achievement of the world’s most influential individuals.

“The TIME 100 is a list of the world’s most influential men and women‚ not its most powerful‚ though those are not mutually exclusive terms. While power is certain‚ influence is subtle. As much as this exercise chronicles the achievements of the past year‚ we also focus on figures whose influence is likely to grow‚ so we can look around the corner to see what is coming‚” editor Nancy Gibbs says.

Berger is an award-winning palaeoanthropologist‚ researcher‚ explorer‚ author and speaker from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University in Johannesburg.

His explorations into human origins in Africa over the past two-and-a-half decades have resulted in many new and notable discoveries‚ including the most complete early hominin fossils found so far‚ which belong to a new species of early human ancestor‚ Australopithecus sediba and‚ in 2013‚ the richest early hominin site yet found on the continent of Africa and a new species of human relative‚ Homo naledi‚ announced in 2015.

“It is an honour to be included in the TIME 100 and a tribute to the world-class and influential science being produced on the African continent by African scientists and African institutions such as Wits University.

“This recognition also reflects on the hard work of my colleagues‚ who are all critical to both the discoveries being made‚ as well as the interpretations put forward in the scientific literature‚” Berger said.

Source: TMG Digital

 
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Image: Wits