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  • Excerpt from The Vegetarian
  • Han Kang (bio)
    Translated by Janet Hong (bio)

Until the day my wife turned vegetarian, I didn't think there was anything special about her. To be honest, I wasn't even attracted to her the first time we met. She wasn't short, but neither was she tall. Her bob cut wasn't short, but neither was it long. She had chapped sallow skin, Asian eyes with no double eyelids, and protruding cheekbones. She wore neutral colors, as if she were afraid of standing out. She walked up to the table where I was waiting for her in black shoes of the plainest design. She walked in a way that was neither fast nor slow, firm nor dainty.

I married her in the end because I didn't find anything wrong with her, just as I didn't find anything special about her. I was comfortable with her ordinary personality that wasn't refreshing, witty, or polished. There was no need to impress her by pretending to be extremely knowledgeable, no need to panic when I was late, and no need to feel intimidated by the male models who appeared in fashion catalogues. I didn't have to worry about my belly that started bulging in my mid-twenties, my skinny arms and legs that wouldn't get bigger no matter how much I worked out, or even my small penis that was the secret source of my insecurity.

I've never liked feeling inferior. When I was young, I preferred hanging out with those who were two or three years younger than me so that I could boss them around, and when I got older, [End Page 117] I applied to lesser-known universities that would give me enough funding. I was happy to routinely collect my small paycheck that was hardly worth bragging about from the small company that valued my insignificant skills. Considering all this, it was only natural for me to marry a woman who appeared to be the most ordinary woman in the whole world. I simply wasn't comfortable around women who were beautiful, clever, sexy, or rich.

Just as I expected, my wife performed the duties of an ordinary wife with ease. She woke up at six every morning to prepare my breakfast of rice, soup, and a chunk of grilled fish. She even contributed a little to our finances by working part time as a teacher's assistant at a computer graphics institute, a job she'd started before we got married, and she also worked from home on contract, inserting words into speech balloons for a comic book publisher.

She was on the quiet side. She rarely demanded anything of me, and she didn't care how late I came home. On the weekends we happened to be together, she didn't ask if we could go somewhere. She shut herself up in her room while I stayed on the couch in front of the TV all afternoon with the remote control in hand. She was probably working or reading. Reading was just about the only hobby she had, but most of the books she read looked so dull I didn't even want to crack them open. She only came out of her room when it was time to eat, and she prepared the meal without a word. To be honest, there was nothing exciting about living with a wife like her. But I was just glad she wasn't like my colleagues' wives who called their husbands all day long or those wives who nagged constantly and set off earsplitting fights.

If there were one thing that was different about my wife from other women, it was the fact that she didn't like bras. During our brief and rather dull courtship, I once got a little aroused when I put my hand on her back and realized I couldn't feel her bra straps underneath her sweater. For a moment, I saw her in a whole new light. I watched her carefully to see if she was sending me some sort [End Page 118] of silent message. The conclusion I came to was...


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pp. 117-134
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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