Han Kang

The Vegetarian

Nominated for the Dongin Literary Award 08. Published by Changbi. Sold to Flower City Publishing House/China. English complete ms. Cuon, Inc./Japan, Nha Nam Publishing/Vietnam. Sold to Zukma/France. Sold to Bajo La Luna/World Spanish rights.

The story of a young mentally disturbed woman who thinks she is becoming a tree, and thus the purest form of life on the planet. The world is a mess. She stops eating meat. The cruelty of meat-eating is a metaphor for the cruelty of the world today, thus her vegetarian habits are symbolic, spiritual ones in the literary work that was a sensation in Korea. Kang is among the new wave of Korean lit stars who are gaining an international following.

The Wind Blows, Go!

Munji Publishing Co., Ltd./Korea. Sold to DeCrescenzo/France

One late winter night, a car driven by Seo Inju, a female artist in her late thirties, plunges into the snow-covered Misiryeong Valley. Three days later, she takes her last breath. Why did Inju head for the valley that night? Was the crash a suicide or accident? The circumstances surrounding Inju's death are never brought to light. The novel begins a year later when the narrator sees a special review in an art magazine, commemorating the first anniversary of Inju's death. In the magazine, Kang Seokwon, an art critic and professor who claims to have been Inju's lover, discloses Inju's posthumous work and pronounces her death a suicide. The narrator finds Seokwon's contact information and expresses her interest in seeing Inju's last works. The narrator, a close childhood friend of Inju, thinks it strange that these works are remarkably similar to those of Inju's dead artist uncle who had never publicly exhibited during his lifetime. Although her life had been far from easy, Inju had possessed an exuberant zeal for life, of which the narrator was well aware; in the end, the narrator rejects Seokwon's claims. The narrator begins to grope through her own memory to piece together the final year of her friend's life. She meets those who had known Inju and even sneaks into Inju's studio that has now come under the possession of Seokwon. As clues are slowly revealed, Inju's last days begin to fit together like pieces of a puzzle until the narrator, at last, discovers what actually took place on the snow-covered valley that fateful night.

Although the novel uses the structure of a mystery where clues are presented as pieces of a puzzle and the truth is revealed gradually, it focuses on life and death, memory and reality, sacredness and human conflict. Inju's uncle, who had died of a brain hemorrhage twenty years before, depicted the birth and explosion of stars through ink; his inner world had created a deep and lasting impression on both Inju and the narrator. There is a twist at the end of the novel when the narrator discovers that Seokwon had driven Inju off the road that night. He sets fire to Inju's last works, attacks the narrator with an ink stone, and disappears after locking her in the studio. The narrator gains consciousness and just barely manages to escape from the fire. The novel ends with the narrator on a ventilator, drifting in and out of consciousness, as she is carried away in an ambulance.

The problem that occurs when an unconscious patient who had been breathing through ventilatory support begins to breathe spontaneously is called "fighting the ventilator." He may not breathe in rhythm with the ventilator but "fight" it, exhaling while the ventilator delivers a breath and inhaling while the ventilator withdraws a breath. In this critical situation, the medical team will first administer sedation or neuromuscular blockade and then control the ventilator breath in predetermined volumes. The patient is taken off the ventilator only after the condition of his lungs and many other factors have been carefully analyzed. Both Inju and the narrator are put on ventilators at one point; as they fight for breath, one dies while the other hovers between life and death. The emotions and relationships of these characters continually shudder and collide like breath that is out of sync. The novel explores the beauty of existence, vastness of the universe, and human desire and limitations while it careens toward its surprising yet inevitable end.