Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: Human Acts: A Novel by Han Kang

Title: Human Acts: A Novel
Author: Han Kang
Pages: 224 pages
Release Date: January 17, 2017
Publisher: Hogarth
Genre: Historical fiction
My Rating: 4/5

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.

In May of 1980, Chonnam University students took to the streets to protest strong military rule in their school and city of Gwangju. Exercising martial law, South Korea's leader Chon Doo-hwan sent his troops to immediately shut down the demonstration by any means necessary. Students were gunned down. Appalled local citizens took up arms by raiding local armories and police stations to continue the democratic Gwangju Uprising. Nine days and 600 casualties later, they surrendered to Doo-hwan's troops.

Although the rationale behind the Gwangju Uprising is timely today, the political unrest is secondary to what Han Kang's Human Acts is about. Broken into interconnected chapters, Kang explores what compels people to protest ("Conscience, the most terrifying thing in the world"), survive imprisonment, torture, sexual assault, and to heal.

Don't get me wrong, Human Acts is not about perseverance. Quite the contrary. Kang's characters assert that 'moving on' is often not possible. Putting up emotional barriers is sometimes the only way to survive. This is absolutely worth a read for Kang's writing and imagination, but hot damn, this book was brutal in every sense of the word. 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this honest review.

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