Horror for Humanists

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If you are looking for more than light romances here are two novels for you. Both of these novels depict the complexity of power dynamics and violence in contemporary society. The Vegetarian, by Korean writer Han Kang, and winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize is the story of a Korean housewife. Keong-hye, provoked by a series of gory, violent dreams, abruptly stops eating meat. Her mighty struggle to shed the chains of societal brutality and the reactions of those around her is told powerfully. The second novel is Disgrace, by J.M. Coetze, also the winner of the Booker prize, and is told from the perspective of an older, literature professor recently fired from his university job. David Lurie retreats to post-apartheid South Africa to live on his estranged daughter’s farm. There he becomes immersed in an intricately balanced web of exploitation, victimization and violence. The ex-professor rallies to make his world cohere and seeks redemption from his daughter and those he has hurt even if there is none to be had.

The Vegetarian

This Korean novel tells the story of Yeong-hye, who is provoked by a series of gory, violent dreams into abruptly giving up meat. Through the uncomprehending eyes of her husband, brother-in-law, and sister, we witness Yeong-hye’s mighty struggle to shed the chains of societal brutality, and the ways in which those around her are changed by her resistance.

Disgrace

The story of a literature professor fired from his university position for sexual impropriety. He retreats to his estranged daughter’s farm in apartheid South Africa, where he is thrown into an intricately balanced web of exploitation and victimization, between farmers, criminals, and a corrupt government system. One afternoon, a horrific crime is committed upon Lurie and his daughter, and both are left violated and reeling. The ex-professor rallies to make his world cohere and seek redemption from his daughter and those he has hurt, even if there is none to be had.