In the past year or so, I have heard a lot about Han Kang. Her book, The Vegetarian, has been everywhere lately, and I’ve seen a ton of rave reviews. I have yet to read it (I plan to soon), though when I saw this one, I couldn’t resist. Human Acts is really unlike anything I’ve read before, and it has only made me want to devour more of Han Kang’s wonderful writing.
(From Goodreads) 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-h’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.
Human Acts is one of the most beautifully haunting books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about a historical event that, while it affected many people, I hadn’t previously heard of. In many ways, it opened my eyes to the experiences of others. And I loved it. The story itself is something that I think will touch most people. We have all seen stories of violence, and I like that Kang chose to focus on a single boy, and how the loss of his life affected so many people. It allowed for a great deal of emotion while still showing how senseless deaths really affect society as a whole. In the story, we see many anonymous people perish, and I couldn’t help but think about the impact each of them had on those around them. I think this is something most of us can empathize with, even if our only experience with killing is on television.
Perhaps my favorite part of this story was the way in which it was told. Each chapter is told from a different perspective, and each character reflects on how the uprising has affected them in a personal way. I really enjoyed the vignettes and how they tied together. I always enjoy when books about war focus on the people affected by it, and this book did that well. While each chapter was done well, I will say that the constantly changing points of view did throw me off a bit, especially in the first few chapters. Kang switches from first-, second-, and third-person, and it is a bit disorienting. That said, I do think she does a good job with each perspective (particularly second-person, which is kind of hard to pull off), they just didn’t quite mesh together well. It made it a bit difficult to connect with the story, but I don’t think it takes away from the impact of this book. The writing itself was incredibly beautiful, and it made for a great reading experience.
Overall, I think this is a brilliant book. I would highly recommend it to anyone, particularly those looking for a unique piece of historical fiction, particularly one that showcases a culture not often featured in literature. I am very glad to have read this, and look forward to reading more of Han Kang’s work in the future.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review.