The Vegetarian by Han Kang (tr. Deborah Smith)

a nutshell: this three-part novella from South Korea tells the starkly powerful story of a woman named Yeong-hye who takes a quiet yet explosive stand against her oppressive existence

a line: “Why, is it such a bad thing to die?”

an image: the enigma of the Mongolian mark sustains what was, for me, the most engrossing chapter

a thought: one theme that runs through the entire novella is the idea that everyone is fundamentally unknowable – even to those with whom every day is spent

a fact: in 1997 Han Kang wrote a short story (‘The Fruit of My Woman’) about a woman literally turning into a plant, then reworked the image in The Vegetarian in what she called “a darker and fiercer way”

 

want to read The Vegetarian? visit here

 

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

a nutshell: set in postwar Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, this is a vast & raw novel that delves into grief, loss, love – and the complex psychological struggles that often haunt survivors of civil war

a line“I fall down, I get up”

an image: looking up at a commercial airliner passes overhead from one country to another, Kai likens himself to a man drowning as a ship sails by; he wonders at the passengers’ ignorance of the self-devouring nation below while they drink wine and summon the cabin crew

a thought: though I found the first fifty or so pages languid/disengaging, The Memory of Love then grew on me immensely, yet I never shook off my dislike for the main characters Elias & Adrian (the latter is a Brit who’s loath to consider the idea that he’s neither wanted nor needed in Sierra Leone)

a fact: many of the novel’s characters are suffering from various conditions of post traumatic stress; in particular the book taught me about dissociative fugue – a disorder often precipitated by trauma, characterised by reversible amnesia for memories, personality, identity

 

want to read The Memory of Love? visit here

The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift (tr. Jamie Bulloch)

a nutshell: at once sinister and compelling, this psychological thriller opens in Vienna with an invitation to share cake and rapidly spirals into a nightmare of uncontrollable obsession and oppression

a line: “The grotesque face of my abnormality, which had lain dormant within me, resurfaced … I had always known that there was no safety net”

an image: the narrator’s memories of the trepidation that had always smothered family meals – particularly the way in which her grandfather used to ravage all her childhood experiences with food – are devastating to read

a thought: cleverly written, this novel pivots on the internal and external horrors of suffering from addiction (principally eating disorders) and abuse of bodies/minds; it is no easy read

a fact: the eeriest character, Frau Hohenembs, is seen to resemble the late Empress Elisabeth (‘Sissi’) of Austria, who obsessively kept her weight below 50 kilos through periods of complete fasting and rigorous exercise regimes

 

want to read The Empress and the Cake? visit here