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Greek Lessons

By Han Kang and Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won
Greek Lessons by Han Kang and Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won digital book - Fable

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Publisher Description

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE • A dazzling novel about the saving grace of language and human connection, from the “visionary” (New York Times Book Review) author of the International Booker Prize winner The Vegetarian

“Both a disquieting journey about the loss of sense and a return to the sensorium of touch and intimacy, Greek Lessons soars with sensuous and revelatory insight.”—Cathy Park Hong, author of Minor Feelings


"Now and then, language would thrust its way into her sleep like a skewer through meat, startling her awake several times a night."

In a classroom in Seoul, a young woman watches her Greek language teacher at the blackboard. She tries to speak but has lost her voice. Her teacher finds himself drawn to the silent woman, for day by day he is losing his sight. 

Soon the two discover a deeper pain binds them together. For her, in the space of just a few months, she has lost both her mother and the custody battle for her nine-year-old son. For him, it's the pain of growing up between Korea and Germany, being torn between two cultures and languages, and the fear of losing his independence.

Greek Lessons tells the story of two ordinary people brought together at a moment of private anguish—the fading light of a man losing his vision meeting the silence of a woman who has lost her language. Yet these are the very things that draw them to each other. Slowly the two discover a profound sense of unity—their voices intersecting with startling beauty, as they move from darkness to light, from silence to breath and expression.

Greek Lessons is the story of the unlikely bond between this pair and a tender love letter to human intimacy and connection—a novel to awaken the senses, one that vividly conjures the essence of what it means to be alive.

15 Reviews

“Words and sentences track her like ghosts, at a remove from her body, but near enough to be within ear- and eyeshot. 'Greek Lessons' is the kind of book you need to ruminate over. It's short – it takes only a few hours to read, even at a slow pace. At its heart, the book is about language, not just words, spoken or written, but the language of sight and touch. A Korean poet who lost the ability to speak for a time as a child, is suddenly having the same experience as an adult. It's not a physical disability, but likely psychosomatic, though therapy does nothing to help her. In desperation, she begins to take lessons in Ancient Greek, hoping the foreignness of the language will help break through the barrier and solve her speech impediment. She's been through a difficult time – her mother has died, she's just been divorced and her ex-husband has gained full custody of their young son, in part because of her psychological problems. The Greek instructor is a man who is slowly losing his sight. It's a brutal affliction. He explains that his perception of time changes as his sight goes –"I sense it as a slow, cruel current of enormous mass passing constantly through my body to gradually overcome me." The two lives will intersect when both find a new way to communicate. The book is written in gorgeous, delicate, dreamy prose. After all, the author is a published poet while the female protagonist is one too. You feel each character's pain deeply; their disabilities and memories are described so vividly they become real to the reader. The book asks the question: what is language? Is it only what we can read, write and speak? Is there something beyond this, something unspoken that nevertheless conveys thoughts? A beautiful book.”
“4.5/5 • Intriguing from start to finish. Was I confused at times? A little. But always curious, always wondering and reading to find out what was happening next. Not to say this is a plot-heavy book by any means. Yet, Kang writes in a way that is beautiful and compelling. Would be interesting in reading it a second time. It’s short enough to go through in a day if you have a few hours to do so. In summation, would recommend. Head over to the ‘Cafe Au Lit’ podcast on April 18th (release day) for my full review. Thanks to Random House for the Advanced Copy.”

About Han Kang

Han Kang was born in 1970 in South Korea. A recipient of the Yi Sang Literary Award, the Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Manhae Prize for Literature, she is the author of The Vegetarian, winner of the International Booker Prize; Human Acts; and The White Book

Deborah Smith was a co-winner of the International Booker Prize for her translation of The Vegetarian.

Emily Yae Won is a translator based in Seoul. She has translated into Korean the work of Ali Smith and Deborah Levy.

Emily Yae Won

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