Title: Human Acts
Author: Han Kang
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.
Han Kang is a poet. Human Acts reads like a memoir forced upon the reader, and it doesn’t let go until the last page has been turned. Even though this novel is fiction, the themes therein are all too real to humanity today.
I honestly have never read a story using the second person perspective that I have liked; but in Kang’s case, this perspective works. She forces the reader into the position of the main character so that they feel the pain and trials in a real sense. Kang’s knowledge of and life experience in South Korea brings forth a heartbreaking story that reveals how a community revolts in the face of crisis. I was amazed at how she portrayed a young boy’s death as a life-shattering experience that changed the face of South Korea forever.
It is not a surprise to me that Kang made her literary debut as a poet. Her gift for poetry is apparent in every page of Human Acts. She has a way of making drastic events appear beautiful in the face of the characters and the reader.
“The national anthem rang out like a circular refrain, one verse crashing with another against the constant background of weeping, and you listened with bated breath to the subtle dissonance this created.”
Kang is a gorgeous author who knows how to bring different human perspectives to those who may not understand what some individuals go through. Reading her work has changed my own perspective in a big way. I look forward to reading more of Kang’s work, and I think that this novel should be taught at every university as an example of fine literature.
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