What Han Kang does so well is translate violence. Human Acts studies the impact of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising in South Korea. Told in interconnecting chapters, the novel follows the story of two murdered boys, an editor, a prisoner, a factory worker, and the mother of one of the boys. Human Acts is a beautiful, painful, and resounding book. Recommended By Moses M., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"With exquisitely controlled eloquence, the novel chronicles the tragedy of ordinariness violated…In the echo chambers of Han’s haunting prose, precisely and poetically rendered by Smith, the sound of that heartbeat resonates with defiant humanity." New Statesman
"Harrowing…Han’s novel is an attempt to verbalize something unspeakable…. But she humanizes the terrible violence by focusing on the more mundane aspects: tending and transporting bodies, or attempting to work an ordinary job years later. And by placing the reader in the wake of Dong-ho’s memory, preserved by his family and friends, Han has given a voice to those who were lost." Publishers Weekly
"This is a book that could easily founder under the weight of its subject matter. Neither inviting nor shying away from modern-day parallels, Han neatly unpacks the social and political catalysts behind the massacre and maps its lengthy, toxic fallout. But what is remarkable is how she accomplishes this while still making it a novel of blood and bone. The characters frequently address themselves to an unnamed "You"…. This sense of dislocation is most obvious when a dead boy’s soul converses with his own rotting flesh – and it’s here that the language comes closest to the gothic lyricism of Han’s previous book, The Vegetarian…. By choosing the novel as her form, then allowing it to do what it does best – take readers to the very centre of a life that is not their own – Han prepares us for one of the most important questions of our times: "What is humanity? What do we have to do to keep humanity as one thing and not another?" She never answers, but this act of unflinching witness seems as good a place to start as any." Eimear McBride, The Guardian
"Human Acts is elegantly written, unflinchingly brutal and absolutely real. It is not so much a novel as it is a profound act of connection; it is beyond powerful. Han Kang is what most writers spend their lives trying to be: a fearless, unsentimental teller of human truths." Lisa McInerney, Baileys Women’s Prize-winning author of The Glorious Heresies
About the Author
Han Kang was born in 1970 in South Korea. In 1993 she made her literary debut as a poet, and was first published as a novelist in 1994. A participant in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, Han has won the Man Booker International Prize, the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Manhae Prize for Literature. She currently works as a professor in the department of creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.