Title: Human Acts
Author: Han Kang
Genre: 21st Century Korean Literature, South Korean Literature, Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction
Source: Publisher in exchange for a review
Publisher: Hogarth/Random House
Release Date: January 2017
Format: Hardcover; 979-1-10190-672-9; $21.00
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Summary: Han Kang’s newest novel focuses on a young boy named Dong-ho who is killed in the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea. His story and shocking death is told from the perspectives of the victims and surviving individuals who have played witness to the pain, fear, suppression, and violence surrounding this tragedy. Though the darkness, Kang presents a novel that searches for wholeness and hope for a Korea that is still haunted by this brutality, hope for a people in need of a voice.
Review: I’ve never read anything by Kang before, and after reading Human Acts, I need more works by her. This novel was brilliant and so timely considering the importance of freedom and protest against tyranny in today’s current political climate. This novel is also unique for what might be unusual for some–the main character isn’t actually alive. Instead of the main character or an omniscient narrator relaying events, Kang’s novel explores and reflects on this boy’s life through the perspectives of other people after he dies. We see through each chapter (which presents a different perspective of Dong-ho) just how much he affects everyone around him and his nation through his death. In essence, he becomes the voice of his countrymen and an emblem against injustice.
The prose with which Kang writes is immensely affecting as she closely examines the barbarity and magnitude of the government massacre of the South Korean people. The following example from the first chapter is an example of how somber her tone is, but how profound and important her message is, conveyed through raw word choice and imagery:
Looking serious, Jin-su had said that there was a rumor going around that when the soldiers came back, those who were gathering in the streets would all be killed, and so the demonstration was being hastily scaled down. “We need there to be more of us, not less, if we’re to prevent the army from reentering the city . . . the mood’s not good. Every day there are more coffins; people are starting to think twice about venturing out of doors.”
“Hasn’t enough blood been shed? How can all that blood be simply covered up? The souls of the departed are watching us. Their eyes are wide open.”
The above selection highlights the raw and bare nature of Kang’s writing. It reflects the truth and honesty the people need, and it reflects the barren nature of life under tyranny. It is truly harrowing and heart-wrenching all at once to see life through the experiences relayed through each character/narrator, and this is how Kang pulls her readers in from start to finish. It makes it extremely difficult to put this book down.
I definitely want to go back and read Kang’s The Vegetarian after reading Human Acts. Kang is one writer that is poised to be a powerful voice in cultural and literary fiction.