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Human Acts: A Novel by Kang Han

Human Acts: A Novel (2014)

by Kang Han

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 152 (next | show all)
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was utterly gutted by Kang's The Vegetarian. I was evangelical about it to everyone as a top book of 2016. If anything, Kang has surpassed that effort with Human Acts. Beautiful writing, haunting character development and engrossing story telling give this harrowing set of stories about the Gangju, South Korea uprising and military beat down and massacre huge impact. Stories run the gamut from committed student protestors to bereaved parents to restless ghosts/souls. These are not easy reads. That they stay with you long afterwards speaks to the power of the storytelling and the artistry of the author. ( )
  michigantrumpet | Sep 12, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Kang's second work to be translated into English is well worth the time of those who were spellbound by her first, The Vegetarian. It likewise is not the most pleasant read, but will open the reader to a new perspective on human suffering.
  zhejw | Sep 10, 2017 |
"It was a perfectly ordinary pen, a black Monami Biro. Thus begins one of the most memorable chapters of a resoundingly memorable novel, a chapter written in the voice of a torture survivor.

In May 1980, a student uprising in Gwangju, in a far south region of South Korea, was brutally repressed by the military government. Gwangju is Han Kang's hometown and she tells the story of that uprising from the deeply personal perspective of victims and survivors and, most poignantly, the mother of a 15-year-old boy who was shot by soldiers during the chaos. That boy, Dong-ho, is one of the threads connecting the stories that proceed from 1980 through 2013. The story of the uprising is not so much told as it is unveiled, one painful recollection at a time. This is one of the most difficult novels I've ever read; at moments I had to pause and catch my breath, consciously taking in oxygen to ease the wooziness. Still, it was so worth it. Han Kang's fearless study of the human capacity for brutality, interwoven with glimpses of our capacity for tenderness, is literature at its finest.

"The day I stood shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of thousands of my fellow civilians, staring down the barrels of the soldiers' guns, the day the bodies of those first two slaughtered were placed in a handcart and pushed at the head of the column, I was startled to discover an absence in myself: the absence of fear. I remember feeling that it was alright to die; I felt the blood of a hundred thousand hearts surging together into one enormous artery, fresh and clean . . . the sublime enormity of a single heart, pulsing blood through that vessel and into my own. I dared to feel a part of it."

This is human history, it is the blood and guts but also the soul and spirit of humanity exposed through profoundly human individual stories. Highly recommended. ( )
  EBT1002 | Aug 27, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I got this book from LibraryThing's Early Review program, in exchange for an honest opinion when I read it.

It tells the story of, I'm ashamed to admit, a recent chapter of Korean history that I knew nothing of. In 1980, in the city of Gwangju, there was a Democratic uprising that was crushed by a government sanctioned massacre. The death toll is still unclear and is argued to be anywhere between 150 and 2000 people. The story centers on Dong Ho, a young man working/volunteering to process the dead before the government troops overrun them and fully retaliate. Each chapter tells of the aftermath from a different point of view and further along in time from the original event.

Kang plays with tenses and styles to great effect. The first chapter is told in 2nd person, something I'm not used to reading. The 2nd chapter was my favorite, is an almost scifi telling what happens to the soul of one of the victims, from his death until his ultimate release. It is a brutal unforgiving story where in the final chapter titled "The Writer, 2013", Kang, who perhaps is writing as herself and was born in Gwuangju, finds closure and forgiveness. It is a powerful tale, worth your time.


S: 7/3/17 - 7/10/17 (8 Days) ( )
  mahsdad | Jul 16, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Stunning. This is a dark topic and Kang doesn't flinch in addressing it, which makes this a difficult book to read -- it took me months to finish it. Each chapter is gorgeously written, each character comes beautifully alive, each moment, each emotion is vibrantly, horribly real so I'd finish a chapter and have to put the book aside for a week. At one point a character realizes that the point of torture is to erase your self, your history, "to prove to you that you are nothing but filthy stinking bodies. That you are no better than the carcasses of starving animals" (126). But of course it's not about bodies at all, it's about breaking the mind. Another character wonders "Is the dignity that we cling to nothing but self-delusion. . . . To be degraded, damaged, slaughtered -- is this the essential fate of humankind[?]" (139). Kang writes about hideous cruelty, but also breathtaking kindnesses so powerfully that her book answers a loud and lovely NO. ( )
  susanbooks | Jul 14, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 152 (next | show all)
While short, this is an exhausting book. It's brutal, awful, full of the worst aspects of human behavior. It's full of ugliness. I lost sleep over it. The writing is so good, so affecting, so well translated, that it snaked into my psyche. I dreamed its darkness. It made me sad. I felt paranoid.

It's a good book to have read.

This isn't an easy book, though, subject matter aside. It's structured interestingly, with different perspectives and voices, but I had a hard time making my way through the novel while also understanding who was doing and thinking and feeling what. I got lost in the timeline, eventually just kind of giving up on that and going along for the queasy ride.

A worthy read. As an added bonus, I gained an understanding of something I knew next to nothing about.

(I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.)

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Han, KangAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Smith, DeborahTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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