BOOK REVIEW: Human Acts, by Han Kang

BOOK REVIEW: Human Acts, by Han KangTitle: Human Acts by Han Kang, Deborah Smith
Published by Hogarth Press
Published: January 17th 2017
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 218
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads

From the internationally bestselling author of The Vegetarian, a rare and astonishing (The Observer) portrait of political unrest and the universal struggle for justice.
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.
An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.

 How long do souls linger by the side of their bodies?
Do they really flutter away like some kind of bird? Is that what trembles the edges of the candle flame?

In such a small volume and through interconnected chapters, Human Acts recounts the violent Gwangju Uprising in South Korea in the 1980s. Each of the chapters has a different voice telling his or her version of the events, and the effect is haunting. Human Acts is just over 200 pages long, but it seemed so much more than that. I had to set it aside sometimes because the emotions and events told by the very human voices was too much to bear. I’m not usually emotionally overwhelmed by books, but Human Acts illustrates some of the very worst acts a human being could do to another being.

Each chapter follows the perspective of someone involved in the uprising from the time it happened in 1980 to the present time in 2013. I think what I liked most about it is Han Kang’s own perspective of the events in the epilogue. Compared to her previous novel, Han Kang’s Human Acts seems more real, visceral, and grounded, and somehow that made everything about the lengths humanity will go to prove their point that much more terrifying.

I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a necessary read. Han Kang has a way with words that digs at your very core and I’ve not stopped thinking about this book since I’ve finished it. It’s a timely read, especially in today’s political climate.

Thanks to Crown Publishing/Blogging for Books for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

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BOOK REVIEW: The Vegetarian, by Han KangTitle: The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Deborah Smith
Published by Hogarth
Published: February 2nd 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 188
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
Goodreads

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.   A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

Han Kang’s The Vegetarian is a slim novel that is packed with things and ideas that leave the reader thinking long after the book is closed. While I found the characters and the varying points of view interesting, I found that something was missing. Something that feels lost in translation. I think it’s incredibly impressive that Deborah Smith studied Korean for seven years and then translated this book, but I think that her limits definitely showed in her translation. Some parts of it felt clunky, and some parts of it felt skimmed over. What I felt was lacking was a cultural significance as to why the members of Yeong-hye’s family found her vegetarianism so fundamentally shocking.

But most of all, I liked the different insights from other people in Yeong-hye’s life. I thought it showcased the difficulties one woman faced in the midst of a very personal decision. Her decision was never taken seriously, no matter what her reasons were for making it. Yeong-hye lost everything because of her fastidious decision to become a vegetarian, and her decision affected her entire family, essentially cracking the family’s foundation.

It’s a short novel, and it’s certainly worth reading if you enjoy reading prize-winners, international/translated fiction, and fiction about the lives of women in the aftermath of the choices they make.