What is life? What is death? Who am I? Writing means embracing these ever resilient questions as you move forward.
Hello, I’m Han Kang and I write novels. It’s always a very special and amazing experience to meet my readers. Translation is such a singular process where a book is completely reborn, and I am so grateful to be able to meet you through this demanding and interesting process.
Q. How did you become a writer?
I was always reading as a child. We moved a lot, so I changed schools a lot, and I remember reading by myself until I made new friends. So I was reading for pure pleasure as a child, and then I revisited those books when I was a teenager. I was asking all of those typically adolescent questions, what does it mean to be human, why do people die, what is life, who am I, and when I reread those books I was surprised to not find the answers—there were only questions, not answers. And I felt that the authors, the writers were as vulnerable and clueless as I was, asking and recording the same questions that I had. So I felt a sense of kinship with them, although of course I was only a very young and insignificant being, and I thought that if writing is about asking questions, and not necessarily finding answers, I could write that way too.
Q. Could you introduce yourself briefly?
I studied Korean literature in university. After I graduated I worked for about three years in publishing and magazines. I made books, I interviewed people and wrote articles, I went on trips on assignment. After I started writing myself, there have been times when I’ve been writing full time and when I teach on the side; and so the time goes.
Q. When do you feel fulfilled as a writer?
For me, to write is to endlessly question what is life, what is death, what am I. When I write, especially when I’m writing novels, I’m exchanging one, two, three, sometimes four years for that book. So when I feel that I’m going forward as a writer, when I see that I explored what it means to be human in a certain way in this book and I went another way in another book, that’s when I’m glad that I became a writer.
Q. Your novel The Vegetarian is about…?
The protagonist is a woman named Young-hye, who sees vegetarianism as a way of not inflicting harm on anything. Eating meat symbolizes human violence, the violence of this world, and she chooses vigilant vegetarianism as a way of purging herself of that violence. But then she starts to identify as a plant rather than a human and stops eating entirely. She becomes completely exhausted, with the ironic result that what she did to redeem herself ends up killing her.
Q. How was The Vegetarian conceived?
I have an old story called “The Fruit of My Woman,” from ten years or so ago, about a woman who actually, physically becomes a plant and her husband puts her in a flowerpot and waters her and takes care of her. I always wanted to write a follow-up to that story, so that was my first motivation, and secondly I have always been curious about human violence, I wanted to explore if human innocence was possible, what someone would have to overcome to lead a completely blameless life.
Q. What message did you want to convey through this novel?
Can a person be completely innocent? What happens when we vow not to hurt anything? What is sin, and what is redemption? What is beauty? These are the questions that I hope to share with the ...