In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.
The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho's own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.~Goodreads Blurb
The sheer weight that this book holds within it is simply amazing. From Han Kang’s original work to Deborah Smith’s translation, “Human Acts” takes almost no time to creep into your being. It is by no means a fun read or one that I would hand over lightly. I do think its story is necessary. In an all too common 24-hr new cycle world, we have a tendency as people to simply forget to care. We grow angry, shake our fists, and then simply say, “It’s happening everywhere.” Instead of numbing the readers, Han Kang and Deborah Smith have shown a stark and yet intimate view of the Massacre that shook Gwangju. If you’re thinking, I’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. You may not thank me for recommending this book but I think it needs to be read. It spans years and covers multiple people’s views. There are perhaps a few cultural elements that I didn’t understand but they didn’t detract from the book.
I want to be able to tell you to go straight from this to a light hearted chick-lit book. Go find yourself a bodice-ripper and giggle at all different ways to write man missile and love cave. You’ll need it after reading this. After author Han Kang has cracked open this world for you through this latest novel, “Human Acts.” I’m going to need you not to though. I need you to just sit after you finish it. Even if you are in the middle of a coffee shop, listening to people talk about their day, and the traffic, and the weather, and the gossip, just sit sit for a moment. You might end up like me, finding yourself unable to really explain what’s going on inside. A feeling of relief and yet a sadness and helplessness combination floating right on top. It’s easy enough to change the channel and zone out, or watch some puppies on YouTube and forget what you just read, but please stop yourself. I need you to feel like this, to remember this feeling. You might not understand why just yet, and I hope it doesn’t come up, but it might be important later.
*This book was provided by BloggingForBooks and Hogarth Publishing in exchange for honest feedback*
Han Kang is the daughter of novelist Han Seung-won. She was born in Kwangju and at the age of 10, moved to Suyuri (which she speaks of affectionately in her work "Greek Lessons") in Seoul.
She studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. She began her writing career when one of her poems was featured in the winter issue of the quarterly Literature and Society. She made her official literary debut in the following year when her short story "The Scarlet Anchor" was the winning entry in the daily Seoul Shinmun spring literary contest.
Freelance Editor & Reviewer