A review by danielles_reads
Human Acts by Han Kang

dark emotional reflective sad slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


After you died I could not hold a funeral,
And so my life became a funeral.

Damn, this book!

I didn't necessarily enjoy reading this, but I'm seriously impressed. This is the type of book that is so depressing and brutal that it was difficult for me to make myself pick it up and continue. I'm not a huge mood reader normally, but I felt like I had to read a more lighthearted book at the same time to get through this! However, while I was reading, I was completely absorbed.

Han Kang took a historical event where the government brutalized its own people, and showed us its lasting impacts on both the murdered and the survivors. This book is so important to read just for that alone. But Kang (along with the translator, Deborah Smith) also created a hauntingly beautiful story that's hard to look away from.

My favorite chapters were "The Boy's Friend" and "The Boy's Mother".
SpoilerSeeing Jeong-dae narrate the experience of his body after death, and how he so badly wanted to connect with the other souls nearby him while the soldiers still alive threw around their bodies like trash, was so heartbreaking. I suppose this would be considered magical realism, and I think it was utilized to a truly strong effect! And I could really feel for Dong-ho's mother in her chapter, and her eternal guilt and hopelessness. Her holding the banner and screaming on top of the hospital made me cry. Chun Doo-hwan, you murdered my son. Let's tear that bloodthirsty butcher to pieces.
And then seeing all the chapters come together with "The Writer" was fantastic. The true scale of the devastation of the Gwanju Uprising is hard to comprehend, but this book showed us a tiny piece.

I'm finding it difficult to express the strengths of this book, so I'll end with the fact that I'm really glad I read this. I just need to detox with happier books now.

Those words feel seared onto her chest as she gazes up now at the photograph of the president hung on the plaster wall. How is it, she wonders, that a face can so effectively conceal what lies behind it? How is it not indelibly marked by such callousness, brutality, murderousness?

It was also strange to see the Taegukgi, the national flag, being spread over each coffin and tied tightly in place. Why would you sing the national anthem for people who'd been killed by soldiers? Why cover the coffin with the Taegukgi? As though it wasn't the nation itself that had murdered them.

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