A review by eline1701
Human Acts, by Han Kang

challenging dark sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? N/A
  • Loveable characters? Yes


I think this one will stay with me for a long, long time. It was an incredibly heavy read. To say it was beautiful is not quite right either, it's gruesome and nauseating and upsetting. The writing, though, is beautiful. While I haven't read the Korean original, it felt like the translation was done with a whole lot of care, and I really appreciated the informative translator's note at the start, which explained the political situation in South Korea in the years leading up to the Gwangju Uprising (and I was very endeared by the way they admitted to drawing inspiration from the Yorkshire accent in "translating" the Gwangju dialect). The writing is merciless when it comes to the descriptions of violence in particular, yet also beautiful and contemplative at times, without feeling flowery or pretentious. I also loved the way in which all three single person points of view (I, you, she/he/they) were alternated throughout the novel, which made it all feel even more immersive and intense. 

As for the novel's content, despite the horrors that were described, the graphic descriptions always felt justified - never sensationalised, never allowing anyone to romanticise any of it. And at the same time, there was  a certain tenderness to it, especially for the different main characters, who are all so deeply human. 

Speaking of the characters, I thought the connections between them all were so masterfully done. For Seon-ju, it took me embarrassingly long to realise it was her, but when I did it hit me right in the chest. And Dong-ho as the red thread tying them all together when initially his focus is only on his friend... yeah. 

All of that said, I don't know if I'd recommend this book to anyone. It really is just very heavy and very graphic (see below, yes, all of those are described in detail again and again), to the point where I had some restless dreams from it. It's also a bleak book, as it doesn't only cover the events of the Uprising, but also its longlasting, ongoing aftereffects, without much of a message of hope. Still, I'm grateful to have read it though and to know a bit more about Gwangju, South Korea, and the Gwangju Uprising. 

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