By Han Kang
“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?” -Han Kang, Chapter 1, page 52
Human Acts tells the story of the South Korean student uprising and subsequent mass murders of Korean people by a corrupt government. While the story is fiction, the premise of the book is based on factual historic accounts of that time in the 1980’s.
Our story follows a young man, Dong Ho, as he is brutally murdered and friends and family try to cope with not just the loss of Dong Ho, but also trials of the time they live in. This is a tragic story of brutality and a corrupt people, and also the South Korean people finding a place and a voice.
My thoughts: I personally knew nothing of South Korean history and have never been interested in it. This is not a book I would have read on my own. At times gruesome and disturbing, Human Acts asks the main question, Why do humans kill humans?
I did not appreciate Dong Ho’s POV. It was very distracting, the character constantly being referred to as “you”, which stole from my reading experience. While I love to completely dissolve into a story, the author’s choice of POV in the very first chapter, no less, kept me very aware of myself and thus, confusion ensued.
I also found it hard to thread out the current plot through the multitude of flashbacks that, in my opinion, were not necessary to the plot, nor were introduced well. In addition, the Korean names are very unique and at times, quite similar to each other, and pared with under developed characters, I had a hard time not just distinguishing between characters, but also caring about anything that happened to any of them.
However, the authors eloquent writing still kept me enraptured and I found myself underlining many beautiful quotes, like this:
“Her death was every bit as quiet and understated as she herself had been. Something seemed to flutter up from her face, like a bird escaping from her shuttered eyes above the oxygen mask. You stood there gaping at her wrinkled face, suddenly that of a corpse, and wondered where that fluttering, winged thing had disappeared to.” Page 29
“After you died I couldn’t hold a funeral, so these eyes that one beheld you became a shrine.” Page 108
This was a hard read, but I believe what made it difficult was its raw humanness, the un-paralleled battle between good and evil and how we can carry out either on another person. A very disturbing book, one that I do not recommend if you have a sensitive pallet.
“This book was originally published in Korean as ‘The Boy is Coming’, in 2014 by Changbi Publishers, Inc” -Title Page Verso.
Genre- Political Fiction
Author- Han Kang, author of ‘The Vegetarian’
Translator- Deborah Smith
I received this book in exchange for my honest review.