Human Acts by Han Kang

30091914In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

Human Acts starts with the story of one boy, of what happened to him over a few short days in May 1980. It starts with him looking amongst the dead for his best friend, who he had seen shot in the street by soldiers. It ends with him dead, gun in hand, as he tries to make a stand.  There are lots of dead in Human Acts, and lots of friends and family looking amongst them for their loved ones. Loved ones who had taken to the streets just like the boy and his friend had, protesting against military rule in South Korea.

The boy is Dung-ho. He is fifteen. And this is the Gwangju uprising, where – depending on reports – hundreds of people were killed over a period of nine days and others as the result of torture and retribution for having stood up to a brutal regime. Brutal is the only word I can think of to describe what I read. Han Kang pulls no punches in her description of what happened to those that died and those that survived. 

What happened to some of the survivors is told through long chapters that are more like short stories. Each survivor is visited at a different times in their lives and at different times in South Korea’s history and each is connected to the first chapter and Dung-ho. None have ever fully recovered from what happened to them as a result of their involvement in the uprising. Most of them were young. There were students, factory workers, parents. One was the author herself, who was a child at the time. None were ever the same as a result of what they went through.

It wasn’t a pleasant or easy read at times and I struggled in places to not skim through graphic details. I felt I needed to read every line though because this isn’t just about what happened nearly 40 years ago, this is still happening – if not in South Korea then in other parts of the world. People are still being tortured and abused and it does make you wonder just what we are as humans if we keep doing this to each other. Han Kang says “the question which remains to us is this: what is humanity? What do we have to do to keep humanity as one thing and not another?”.

I don’t know the answer and wish I did. As strange as it may sound, I feel grateful to Han Kang for asking and opening my eyes in such an eloquent way. Because, after finishing this over two weeks ago, it’s still a question that is rattling round my brain and I don’t feel it is going to go away. I am also grateful to have been given the opportunity to read this book. It is beautifully written, despite the subject matter, and translated. The characters are so real, I felt completely connected to them and their fate. For as dark and as hard to read as it was, I loved this book and can’t recommend it enough.

Emma x

loved-it

Source: Blogging for Books
Publisher: Hogarth
Publication Date: 17th January, 2017
Pages: 218
Format: ebook
Genre: literary fiction
Buy now: Amazon UK / Amazon US

Note: I received a copy of this book from Net Galley in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.

You might also like…

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

 

 

Tuesday Intro: Human Acts by Han Kang

Once again I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. In really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

This week I’m reading Human Acts by Han Kang, whose book The Vegetarian was one of my favourite books of last year and still haunts me now.  Here’s what Human Acts is about…

30091914In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

And here’s how it starts

The Boy, 1980

Looks like rain,” you mutter to yourself.

What’ll we do if it really chucks it down?

You open your eyes so that only a slender chink of light seeps in, and peer at the gingko trees in front of the Provincial Office. As though there, between those branches, the wind is about to take on visible form. As though the raindrops suspended in the air, held breath before the plunge, are on the cusp of trembling down, glittering like jewels.

When you open your eyes properly, the trees’ outlines dim and blur. You’re going to need glasses before long. This thought gets briefly disturbed by the whooping and applause that breaks out from the direction of the fountain. Perhaps your sight’s as bad now as it’s going to get, and you’ll be able to get away without glasses after all?

What do you think – I appreciate this book might not be for everyone but would you keep on reading?

Emma

Where My Heart Used To Beat by Sebastian Faulks

30738612On a small island off the south coast of France, Robert Hendricks – an English doctor who has seen the best and the worst the twentieth century had to offer – is forced to confront the events that made up his life. His host is Alexander Pereira, a man who seems to know more about his guest than Hendricks himself does.

The search for the past takes us through the war in Italy in 1944, a passionate love that seems to hold out hope, the great days of idealistic work in the 1960s and finally – unforgettably – back into the trenches of the Western Front.

I have been a huge fan of Sebastian Faulks since reading Human Remains over ten years ago.  After I had, I went on a bit of a Faulks binge and read everything he’d written up to the that point and have read every book he’s written since.  Some I’ve loved, some I’ve not.  None have been boring and one, Engleby, is one of my favourite books of all time. Why, then, it’s taken me over a year since it’s release to read Where My Heart Used to Beat is beyond me – other than there are too many books on my shelves and my kindle for me to keep up.

The book opens in the early 80’s with Dr. Robert Hendricks’ leaving New York in a hurry.  Why he’s in a hurry is never completely clear, though as you start to get to know him you wonder if he isn’t always slightly on the run – from his past and from his life in general.  Back in London, he decides to respond to a letter that he received weeks before from a Dr. Pereira, inviting him to visit the doctor at his home on a small island off the coast of France.  Faulks likes France and a lot of his books are set there (even if just in part); the way he writes about it, with affection, is so clear I felt that I was there with him.

He is drawn to the Pereira because he says he knew Hendricks’ father during WWI and has things to tell him.   Hendricks never knew his father, he died when he was two, and has mixed feelings about knowing more but feels compelled to accept the offer of a visit.  In fact, he has mixed feelings about everything to do with his life.  He seems incapable of forming lasting relationships, keeping himself at a distance from those who try to become friends and pulling away from romantic relationships as soon as they become serious.

Pereira instinctively sees this in Hendricks and, over the course of several weeks and several visits, slowly draws out the story of his past, what in it has led him to become the man he is in the present.  It’s a past that starts with his dead father before focusing on his experiences in WWII and his lost love, Louisa, a woman he has never been able to forget.  Weaving between past, present, his time in France and his time in England, slowly the story that emerges is of a man who is in pain, and always has been.

The irony in it is that he is a psychiatrist, he should have been able to see and understand his behaviours, yet it takes a stranger to bring him out of himself and help him try and maybe find some peace during the last years of his life (Hendrick is 64 in the present).  I found this side of it very sad and the story overall very touching.  Faulks has an amazing ability to paint a picture of what a person is thinking and feeling without beating you over the head with it.  I felt like I was discovering the truth at the same time as Hendricks.

The story itself focuses on themes that are familiar to a lot of Faulks’ writing.  His books look at love, loss, the war and also mental illness.  Faulks’ description of the battlefield is unflinching and unflattering at times.  The men he writes about were heros but the war itself was not a heroic time.  How men and women lived, how they behaved, in order to survive is shown here in all its glory and tragedy.  His description of how mental illness was seen over a period of around 80 years was also fascinating, especially as I work in the mental health field.  There is tragedy in this too, in how people were treated – especially things like PTSD – and how they were judged.

In fact, tragic could sum this book up in many ways – I felt a lot of sadness whilst reading it, as Hendricks laid himself bare and I came to understand just how he had never truly lived despite having an interesting life and successful career.  Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of joy in his memories and light at the end of the tunnel as he comes to terms with his past, but this is not a happy book.  Because of that, it won’t be for everyone I’m sure.  I know other reviews I have read have said as much.  For me, though, it was a wonderfully written window into a damaged soul and I really liked it a lot.

Enjoy!

Emma

 

liked-it-a-lot

Source: Library
Publisher: Vintage Digital
Publication Date: 30th June, 2016 (first published 10th September, 2015)
Pages: 337
Format: ebook
Genre: Literary fiction
Find on: Amazon UK / Amazon US / Goodreads

 

Tuesday Intro: The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson

imageThis week, I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. I really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

This week I’m reading The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson who last book, The Room, was one of my favourites of last year.  Here’s what it’s about…

27245980A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm.

When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country.

 

And here’s how it starts…

“It an incredible amount, 5,700,000 kronor. Impossible to take seriously. I assumed it must be one of those fake invoices, the sort you hear about on television and in the papers. Unscrupulous companies trying to defraud people, often the elderly, out of their money.

It was very well done. There was no denying that. The logo looked genuine, at least to me. I don’t really know, I don’t get much post, apart from the usual bills. This one looked pretty similar. Except for the amount, of course. W.R.D. it said in large letters, and the bit about conditions of payment was very convincing. The whole thing had that dry, factual tone, just like something from a genuine organization.” (proof copy)

What do you think – would keep reading?

Emma