Edel Grace

Programmer, Developer, Enthusiast


Book Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Aug 6, 2017 | Comments

Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister’s husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree.

Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

I remember one time I participated in a blog hop where one of the prompts mentioned seeking out diverse voices, usually cultural. I was a little shocked that a lot of people said, “I don’t seek it out or make a point to find authors with a different point of view from mine.” I think there is a lot of different voices out there that you need to seek out because their voices need to be heard.

One of my friends started up a book club, #milliesbookclub, that would explore Asian American authors and their works. Being Asian American myself (Asian Canadian to be exact), I was extremely interested. For minorities, it can be easy to have your voice drowned out. In general, it’s easy to get lost in the literature industry regardless but it seemed important to intentionally seek out these Asian American authors. So out of this book club, The Vegetarian was chosen.

My first impression of this novel was that it was extremely Murakami-esque. Haruki Murakami almost always features peculiar women and these women almost always serve as some sort of motivator for the male protagonists. Murakami is frequently accused to using the manic pixie dream girl trope again and again and it was a little bit disappointing to see this again in another Asian author.

The male characters in this book were no different from how Murakami portrays his male characters. Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law is obsessed with her to the point of his destroying his marriage and taking advantage of her mental vulnerability. Yeong-hye’s husband forces himself upon her and selfishly only thinks of how her antics affect him. Yeong-hye’s father was abusive to her for her entire life, even displaying physical aggression towards her in her adult life. It’s no wonder that Yeong-hye retreats inward and pursues the notion that becoming a tree would bring the ultimate state of nirvana.

While I did find Yeong-hye’s passion a little ridiculous and self destructive, I have finally come to the conclusion (with a little bit of help) that it boiled down to a form of escapism and served as a great foil to Yeong-hye’s sister.

It maybe be obvious that Yeong-hye wasn’t so keen on the life that she lived due to all of the not-so-great males she had around her. I still don’t see the significance in becoming a tree but I do love how this demonstrates a positive attribute that Yeong-hye possesses which her sister does not.

Despite everything, Yeong-hye is true to herself. Compared to her sister, she is not a subservient and too obedient woman who is too polite to the point of irritation. Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law makes this observation as he wonders why his wife would not lash out at him for his absenteeism in the family and instead becomes a little bit too accommodating. This is also shown when Yeong-hye’s sister has a strong sense of duty towards her son which keeps her from succumbing to her depression whereas Yeong-hye is eager to let go of what little life she has left regardless of her obligations. Yeong-hye is more willing to break conventions as she only answers to herself.

Interestingly enough, most of the other members of the book club didn’t like this novel. I can see why. The male characters are disgusting and abhorrent. The fragile and subservient Asian woman stereotype is tiring. It’s a frustrating read that reminds you that society is pretty much still patriarchal and misogynistic. It isn’t empowering in the slightest, one of the aims the book club was created to begin with. Honestly, it’s the last book that I would ever thing Millie would like to read. However, there was something fascinating about this book that never let me put it down until I finished.

I became invested in Yeong-hye and her sister. I could have skipped all the sections about Yeonh-hye’s husband and brother-in-law easily. These two women wronged by the most important men in their lives struck a chord with me. The book made me want to know what became of the two sisters and how they could possibly rebuild their lives. I wanted to know what really went on their minds while we saw their husband’s points of view and who they really were behind who the men thought they were.

Ultimately, I think Han Kang made the right choice using male narrators for a good portion of the book because it really painted an accurate picture of the situation. However, it feels like she barely scratched the surface with the female characters but there was some sort of sense of redemption for the female characters.

If you can look past the social undertones in the book, I think it would be a good read. Most reviews I’ve seen focused on the oddity and weirdness of the situation and less on the characters, which is fine but you’ll never know how you feel about the book until you read it for yourself.

Book Review: God in Pink by Hasan Namir

Jul 17, 2017 | Comments

Disclaimer: Topics of sexuality, religion, and spoilers for the book is mentioned in this blog post.

A revelatory novel about being queer and Muslim, set in war-torn Iraq in 2003. Ramy is a young gay Iraqi struggling to find a balance between his sexuality, religion, and culture. Ammar is a sheikh whose guidance Ramy seeks, and whose tolerance is tested by his belief in the teachings of the Qur’an. Full of quiet moments of beauty and raw depictions of violence, God in Pink poignantly captures the anguish and the fortitude of Islamic life in Iraq.

With a lot of things going on nowadays in Iraq and surrounding countries, I find myself becoming a little more interested in the lives of a typical Muslim. I understand that being queer and Muslim isn’t exactly “typical” but it was a topic I’m drawn to being queer and somewhat religious myself. Namir takes a very different take on this scenario than from what I expected. This little novel takes on the perspectives of Ramy, a gay man wanting to find a way through being gay in Muslim society, and Sheikh Ammar is a preacher who does not not to even entertain the idea of homosexuality.

Although in his mid-twenties, Ramy seems to me like a young teenager. He is full of passion, extremely rash, idealistic, but also a little hesitant to fully break free. He falls for men somewhat fast and extremely hard. Although he longs for freedom, he sees around him in the closeted gay community full of hypocrisy and tragedy. His family keeps pushing for marriage not just because it’s expected but because on some level, they know Ramy is gay and they want to either help him keep it a secret or to convince themselves that he’s actually straight and not gay. While his whirlwind and bloody romances are expected, what’s not so expected is the supernatural twist Namir puts to this tale.

Sheikh Ammar begins to have hallucinations of a pink cherub, Angel Gabriel, and a woman donned in a Burqa, Abaddon. They act as opposite sides of his conscious. Angel Gabriel is gay and encourages Ammar to accept Ramy in all of his glorious gayness whereas Abaddon points out the Islamic teachings that say otherwise. This supernatural twist was something that seemed almost left field for me. I did not expect it. I can’t say for sure if I like it or not. I feel like I wouldn’t be missing out on much if Ammar’s storyline was cut out completely. I do like the turn Namir takes with Ammar however. In the end, Ammar turns to cross dressing and pretty much renounces his religion completely.

Overall, it seemed a bit of a rollercoaster going from one storyline to another. The moments when they intersected were disappointing. Both main characters had their moments of ridiculousness for me. What disappointed me the most was how little of Ramy’s life after marriage panned out. I’m not disappointed that the marriage happened because it is realistic, I could totally see it happening. But Namir got me invested in Jameela and I felt a twinge of sympathy for her marrying a man who could not love her as fully as a man who was interested in women was.

Somehow though, I liked it. It was quirky and a little fun. It wasn’t as serious as I thought it would be but I think adding the tinge of dreamy-like aspects made it a more enjoyable read.

Book Blogger Hop #21

Jun 30, 2017 | Comments

Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme run by Coffee Addicted Writer. Every Friday, a question is posted for the book blog community to discuss. This week’s question is…

Name a book that changed your life.

Busting out the big questions. This is a hard one to answer. I think that I’m still trying to find it. I have my favourite books but I’m not sure of their impact on my life. They seemed to be entertaining books rather than books that held a lot of weight.

My first inclination was to think of any self help books I’ve read but none come to my mind. Then I thought of my favourite book, Villette by Charlotte Bronte. I relate a lot to the main character in this book and it made me extremely emotional, however I don’t think I changed any more after reading it. I just really related to the character and it somehow reinforced my pessimistic outlook.

So to have an actual answer, I think the one book that changed my life was probably the very first book that I had ever read out of my own volition, even if I don’t remember what that book could have been. Reading is such a big part of my life, I think my life would be very different if I had never taken up a book that I actually wanted to read and was not forced to read in school. Can you imagine a life without reading? Neither can I.

Book Blogger Hop #20

Jun 23, 2017 | Comments

Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme run by Coffee Addicted Writer. Every Friday, a question is posted for the book blog community to discuss. This week’s question is…

If you are at a really good point in a book and the phone rings or the door bell rings, do you stop reading or let the phone or door bell go unanswered?

Honestly, I would get up and check them. Mostly because, in my mind, those things don’t happen unless there is something important. Who actually calls people anymore? The only phone calls I get are usually important such as my bank, my doctor, etc. If someone is taking the time to visit my home, I will go look at the door. Nine times out of ten it is usually just a door to door salesperson but I won’t let him in. Now if it was a text message, I will definitely let that go unanswered.

Honestly, it’s rare for me to be so engrossed in a book that way. If it really is that good, I will probably let my brother or parents look at the door or answer my phone instead. Unless they yell for me to do it instead, haha!

Book Review: Vital Signs by Tessa McWatt

Jun 19, 2017 | Comments

After thirty years of marriage, producing three now-grown children, Mike and Anna have settled into entrenched domesticity. She is skillful and poised and still beautiful, an instructor of English at the city college. He is a successful graphic artist on the verge of retirement, his awards and ambitions and accomplishments largely behind him. Though the couple’s erotic life has dimmed somewhat, he still considers her ravishing.

But their apparent balance is thrown asunder when Anna breaks the normal silence of their breakfast table with uncontrollable babble about hummingbirds. After an emergency consultation with a neurologist, they have a diagnosis: confabulation, or the scrambling of time, memories and language due to a dangerous aneurysm in Anna’s brain that could burst at any moment.

Not knowing how much time they have left with the beloved Anna, Mike and the kids rally together to support her through the terror of her disintegrating mind. But the unbearable strain of the situation is worsened by another worry that is haunting Mike: he suspects that his two eldest children, Charlotte and Fred, know of his past infidelity.

Several years ago, Anna and Mike took a trip to Egypt, hoping the shared adventure would thwart their mid-life marriage blues. Instead, the trip deepened the chasm, his sexual jealousy and insecurities swamping her attempts at intimacy. Their estrangement worsened when they returned home to discover that their youngest daughter, Sasha, was in hospital, having overdosed on drugs. Anna was furious with Mike for his cool response at the time, which she interpreted as unfeeling.

Two weeks later Mike began his affair, with a much younger woman dissimilar to Anna in all respects. He persisted in the romance for three years, feeling young and vital and once again in control, at least for a time.

The affair is long over but today, as Anna disappears into a terrifying collapse of time and language, Mike is wracked by his dilemma: should he keep his silence about the affair and spare his family more pain, or should he seize the opportunity to be wholly honest with the woman he loves, possibly in the last days of her life? Perhaps the answer lies in his drawings, the means of communication with which he is most comfortable. Can he codify his emotions into pictures? Can he articulate his love and regret and sorrow to his wife – and to himself – without having to say the heart-rending words out loud?

Narrated by a terrified male protagonist whose deep yearning for forgiveness might only be granted by a woman in the grips of dementia, Tessa McWatt’s Vital Signs is a thought-provoking and mesmerizing literary accomplishment – a compassionate and visceral study of a marriage at the brink of catastrophe.

I received this ARC copy of this book from First Reads back in like 2011 and I am completely glad I did. This book was the first First Reads books that I so desperately and truly wanted to win. I read the summary and immediately felt that this seemed like a book that I would love to pieces. I’m glad that my first instinct wasn’t wrong.

Around four hours ago, I looked into the mail and saw the package waiting for me. Immediately, I took it inside and opened it. Ever since then, I’ve been reading it, taking a few breaks to write down what I thought about it as I read.

The very first few pages were emotional to me, and I knew how much of a ride I was in for. I fell completely in love with McWatt’s writing. Everything was so beautifully written and captured me.

Every single one of the characters were incredibly real. Their feelings were real as well. It was heartbreaking to read but at the same time, some scenes were just so beautiful and touching.

I was incredibly moved by this novel. My only complaint however, are the pictures. I understand that the pictures serve an important part to the story, but they also distracted me from the story. They seemed very abrupt, and I didn’t really like their placement. But, they were very well done. I just wish it didn’t interrupt the flow as much. I did love the very last drawing though. It took me a while to figure out the meaning, but I came to love it.

Vital Signs is definitely a short and bittersweet read. I will have to make sure to buy it once it comes out. Spoiler alert, I eventually did years later under the impression that I never read it in the first place. Interesting how fate works. I re-read it and it was all extremely fresh to me. I am a little hurt that the book didn’t leave an impact that would last over six years. However, I’m glad I got to experience it again with a blank mind with little to no expectations.


A photo of me

My name is Edel Grace Altares. My programming interests include full stack development and back end development. My languages of choice are Python and Java. Outside of programming I enjoy crocheting, video games, cats, historical fiction, and reading.