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The White Book by Han Kang
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The White Book (original 2016; edition 2019)

by Han Kang (Author)

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774224,629 (3.96)20
Member:over.the.edge
Title:The White Book
Authors:Han Kang (Author)
Info:Hogarth (2019), 160 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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The White Book by Han Kang (2016)

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Showing 3 of 3
The White Book
By Han Kang
Translated from Korean by Deborah Smith
pub date 2-19-19
Hogarth/Crown publishing

An introspective and fascinating collection of poems, written during Han Kang's visit to to Warsaw, seeing the war torn streets, remnants of the Second World War. It rekindles memories of the story of her older sister, who died in her mother's arms 2 hours after birth, and many other memories from her childhood.
Han Kang's hauntingly beautiful prose uses her life story as a an artist might fill a canvas-white with purity and goodness-whose shading adds much more perspective and depth than color. This is an unedited version of the book but I do hope all that I read is kept. It's amazing.
Favorites were:
Door
White City
Certain objects in darkness
wave
white dog
yulan.
Lace Curtain and Incandescent Bulb were my most favorite.
Thanks to Hogarth books and Han Kang for this ARC
#TheWhiteBook #NetGalley ( )
  over.the.edge | Oct 11, 2018 |
I saw The White Book the other day and was immediately attracted. I'd never heard of Han Kang but I like that whole eastern minimalist thing and snow (which features in the book, of course). Now one part of me feels I have been had. When you pay £9 for a book called the white book and you realise that half of it is white because there is no writing on many pages, you have to be suspicious. Along with the poorly executed black and white photographs there is plenty to complain about. On the other hand, I did enjoy the series of prose poems that focus on things white and tell the minimalist story of a girl from Korea whose older sister and brother died when her mother miscarried and who travels to the west. It made me want to read more by her. ( )
  GaryBrady | Jul 25, 2018 |
When the Images in a Text are Chosen After the Fact (And a Note on The Problems of Representing Trauma)

Two different comments: first on the book's images, then on its narrative.

1. The images

Terry Pitts has written a review of the book on his blog "Vertigo." He contributes some interesting information about the images:

"In The White Book, the seven black-and-white images, plus the one on the cover, each show a woman in a room that appears to be completely white. These haunting images are from a performance that Han Kang did, which was filmed by Choi Jin-hyuk and exhibited at a gallery space in Seoul after the publication of the Korean edition of The White Book (흰 Hŭin or The Elegy of Whiteness). In several images she is holding objects that are white or presenting them to the camera for the reader to view. In others, we see only her silhouetted shape bending or in movement.... Perhaps the images and text seem so integrated because Choi Jin-hyuk’s photographs reiterate what we read in the text and do so at the same heightened aesthetic level of Han Kang’s text.... Curiously, the original Korean edition used different images by a different photographer, Cha Mi-hye, whose color photographs depicted “sparse frames of snowfields, water and sunlight,” according to the Korean Herald." (On sebald.wordpress.com; search "Han Kang's 'The White Book'.")

I haven't seen the original yet, and I'll amend this review when I have. However I'm not as positive as Pitts is regarding the images chosen for the English translation. Readers aren't told they're from a performance done after the Korean edition was published, but it's clear they're stills from an art performance. I find them unexceptional (I have seen many, many photographs of performers in white cubes kneeling and looking at white objects). They're grey, as Pitts notes, partly because of the exigencies of publishing, but largely because they are indifferent as photographs: they could have been much more carefully done. As it is, they're anemic, unfocused on the narrative, and too conventional. It would have been much better to have sharp, interesting photographs that closely respond the often sharp and icy images in the text.

2. The narrative

The narrator is in a European city (I can guess which, because we're given some information, but not quite enough: a curious decision, which I attribute to the author's sense of his Korean readers, who couldn't be tempted to guess). He is haunted by the memory of a baby sister who predated him by four years, and died the day she was born. Midway through the book he imagines her as living, and describes some of her experiences. At the end of the book the narrator returns to the fact that his sister did not survive.

For this to work, it would be necessary to continuously acknowledge that the sister's experiences are actually the narrator's, and that he's just imagining what her life might have been. Han Kang loses track of this. Some passages that come shortly after he decides to imagine her life are abstract, imagistic, or general enough so that it's possible to see them as the narrator's frail attempts to imagine a person he's never seen. But then come pages with very specific stories, which are clearly the narrator's own, but attributed to his sister (p. 89). That wouldn't be an issue if it weren't for the fact that the author apparently does not expect us to think that the narrator actually had these experiences.

The narrative voice is also unstable in ways that the author does not control when it comes to the pages that recount what happened to his sister. The principal pages (pp. 125-6) are very affecting: suddenly much more so than any of the surrounding pages. There is a sudden drop from the trauma and realism of that account to the pages afterward, which return to the book's usual meditations on ice, lace, snow, and other white things. Han Kang could have made the book's many prose poems about white objects into reflections on the narrator's incapacity to understand, or think directly, about the day his sister died. Or he could have introduced passages of equal emotional strength into the nature poems. As it is, "The White Book" reads as an incomplete ac of mourning: the author (not the narrator) is haunted by things he knows, or imagines, about his sister's death, and the best way he knows to respond is by writing abstract, imagistic prose poems, most less than a half page long, about white objects.

And last: there's a very strange page, p. 137, on which we're told that after his sister died, his mother had a son, who also died on the day he was born. When I came to that page I assumed the narrator had withheld that information because it was more traumatic than the death of his sister. But it's apparently the opposite: his brother isn't mented again. The narrator first says that if he hadn't been born, his mother would have died by suicide. But then the second paragraph on the page tells us that if his sister had lived, he (the narrator) might not have. That doesn't follow, and doesn't even make sense: it seems the narrator wants to say that either his sister lived, or he did, one or the other: the equation is poetic, but doesn't make sense. The entire page is undigested: it may have been Han Kang's intention to create a poetic balance (the narrator's life, or his sister's), but it is not at all clear why he needed to introduce the second baby's death, or why he thought his equation made sense. I can't guess, because I am not given any further information: and so, from that page to the end, I am especially unhappy to be taken back into the world of anemic imagistic poems about white objects.
  JimElkins | Feb 25, 2018 |
Showing 3 of 3
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Han Kangprimary authorall editionscalculated
Smith, DeborahTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
From the author of The Vegetarian and Human Acts comes a book like no other. The White Book is a meditation on colour, beginning with a list of white things. It is a book about mourning, rebirth and the tenacity of the human spirit. It is a stunning investigation of the fragility, beauty and strangeness of life. [Amazon.co.uk]
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A stunning and uncategorisable meditation on the colour white, about light, about death, ritual and the figure in the city.

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