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Human Acts

By Han Kang
Human Acts by Han Kang digital book - Fable

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Publisher Description

From the internationally bestselling author of The Vegetarian, a “rare and astonishing” (The Observer) portrait of political unrest and the universal struggle for justice.

“Compulsively readable, universally relevant, and deeply resonant . . . in equal parts beautiful and urgent.”—The New York Times Book Review
Shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award • One of the Best Books of the Year: The Atlantic, San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, HuffPost, Medium, Library Journal

Amid 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.
An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.

18 Reviews


Loudly Crying Face
Want them to succeedHeartbreakingDarkHistorically-accurateHeartbreakingPolitical
“This is a heart-wrenching novel of interwoven stories based on the 1980 student uprising in Gwangju, South Korea. I would assume that a certain layer was lost in translation to English, but I still found it to be piercing and poetic. There were many moments I had to take a break and pick up the book the following day because my heart was aching. Han Kang succeeded in telling the stories respectfully, honestly, and realistically. My favorite chapters were The Boy’s Friend and The Boy’s Mother. The former offered such a unique and memorable concept of a soul, and the latter shattered my heart.”
“This book follows 6 different storylines, of a boy searching for his friend's dead body after he died in a school shooting in Gwanju, which was overtaken by militia and police in 1980. He describes the day-to-day work he has to do and how often he has to face death and come to terms with it as a part of his life, immediately showing the brutal conditions for a 15-year-old boy. We then move to the perspective of his best friend that he was looking for, the one who was shot in the street in broad daylight and shows how his soul moves forward or tries to move on, while he searches on and tries to understand who else in his family is alive. Something that really shocked me was the brutality in which he described his own and the other corpses, and the very delicate nature and impermanence of the physical body, especially to those soldiers who killed them and then gagged at the disgusting smell of the bodies. Also, I had actually expected Dong-Ho to stay alive as he was the main character, but I think it was really made up by the way his memory lived on in other people's lives, even people who had never met him, such as Han-Kang, the author. The best friend then describes how the bodies are piled up in the shape of a cross and burnt till they are nothing but unrecognizable ashes. We then move on to the perspective of a female editor writing a piece about the violence in Gwanju and suffering abuse at the hands of police for her role in publishing unauthorized propaganda. This is the part where we really get to learn about Gwanju's censorship laws and literally ANYTHING about the government, or protest had to be removed. It was almost funny to see that entire paragraphs and pages of the transcript were removed, yet the entire transcript was used regardless. We learn that Dong-Ho was a part of these protests and that he was involved in the play and speaking the exact words that were unauthorized. We then see the prisoner, someone who was tortured for months just for protesting and rebelling against the government be tortured into admitting lies that he did not commit. From his perspective we find out how Dong-Ho died: he was in the school after the militia had forced everyone to stay home, and pretended to be older and got the leftover guns to defend. We also find that the prisoner's cellmate, who had also known Dong-Ho and the rest of the boys, if even for the fewest of moments, committed suicide. He held with him a picture of the boys being killed as they were told, by the prisoner and his cell-mate and all of the adults protesting, to surrender and walk out, as "They won't hurt innocent children". We then meet the factory girl, a girl who knew of Dong-Ho's friend's sister and describes her experience being brutally sexually assaulted by these soldiers who wanted a "confession" and seemed to go past simply getting the information and just wanting to torture her, to the point where she bled for TWO YEARS straight and couldn't have children. What angered me the most about this perspective was that the boss who she worked for after the torture had the AUDACITY to act as though she was "shutting herself away" and "ignoring everyone" as though it was a choice and not a defence mechanism. We also learn that the best friend's sister, who was initially not dead, is never found and is also most likely dead. Finally, we get the hardest perspective. The perspective of the mother of Dong-Ho. She describes how he promised he would come back by 6, an hour before the lockdown, and when he didn't show up, she took the middle brother to go see the office, where they were told by the civilian militia that anyone and everyone who had entered could not leave because they had "chosen to and are willing to die". So, they had no choice but to go back home, knowing Dong-Ho was inside and was going to die. I think that this book definitely became a lot more readable and bearable after the prisoner perspective, but the initial parts of the book felt quite drawn out, and it also took quite a lot of time to get used to the first-person perspective which basically ruined the book for me. Overall, I would say 1 star simply because of how long it took me to get adjusted to the reading style, and the 1 star is literally only because of the truth and horrific nature behind the story, and how the author was inspired to write this because of her own experience.”

About Han Kang

Han Kang was born in 1970 in South Korea. In 1993 she made her literary debut as a poet, and was first published as a novelist in 1994. A participant in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, Han has won the Man Booker International Prize, the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Manhae Prize for Literature. She currently works as a professor in the department of creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.


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