TITLE: Human Acts
AUTHOR: Han Kang
RELEASE DATE: January 17th 2017 (Originally May 19th 2014)
GENRE(S): Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
STAR RATING: 4.5 ****
“MOVIE” RATING: R – Violence
Human Acts is the most thought-provoking, difficult, and painful read for me this year and for many years previously. Much of this is because of the real, excruciatingly detailed events that happened during this uprising in South Korea. The book is written in seven chapters; each one is a different account of what happened and these people’s stories that end up all relating back to one boy, Dong-ho. Some were imprisoned from either their so-called “violent acts” which were most all actually surrendering, tortured for information having to do with the uprising, or just shot to death for performing peaceful objections to the law and the people acting against them.
This book tore at every heart string I have and I felt completely helpless for the people who went through these difficult, unfair, and perilous experiences. However, I am very grateful for this book for bringing such experiences and this uprising itself, to life in this novel. It reminds us that just because the world is growing with bright ideas, wonderful innovations in technology, and the change of ideals, it doesn’t mean that the hunger for absolute power and need for domination, no matter the costs, have vanished forever.
Each story was beautifully told. I don’t mean that everything is happy and carefree in this book. The opposite is true in this case. Not every story is beautiful and happy.
There were many instances throughout this book where I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know about these people, their lives and their specific circumstances. But there were also many more instances where the reality of what happened to these people became too much for me and I had to take a figurative step back to let it all sink in but to also allow me to breath and remember that I was not in this story. This wasn’t happening to me.
The way this was written, it takes away the curtain between the audience (you and me) and the players (the book) and talks to you like an old friend or acquaintance. Using “you” many times, in reference to people in their lives. It feels though that you are really the “you” they address. I felt like I was in the book, sharing in their heartaches, their suffering, and their sorrow.
Yes, this is a sad book. I won’t lie that I felt completely gloomy afterwards and am currently trying to focus on writing a review without filling it with sadness. The reason behind this is: this is what happened. No fluff and no retaining any violent or gory details. This is what happened.
ABOUT Han Kang:
Han Kang is the daughter of novelist Han Seung-won. She was born in Kwangju and at the age of 10, moved to Suyuri (which she speaks of affectionately in her work “Greek Lessons”) in Seoul.
She studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. She began her writing career when one of her poems was featured in the winter issue of the quarterly Literature and Society. She made her official literary debut in the following year when her short story “The Scarlet Anchor” was the winning entry in the daily Seoul Shinmun spring literary contest.
Since then, she has gone on to win the Yi Sang Literary Prize (2005), Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. As of summer 2013, Han teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts while writing stories and novels.