Jill's take on Human Acts by Han Kang
This is another one of those instances where I decide to read a book based on the fact that I liked the author's previous work. I absolutely loved Han Kang's The Vegetarian and was thrilled when I saw Human Acts being recommended at a bookstore in London. First of all, the book is perfect for someone who travels; it's super small. Not that that's the only reason to buy the book, but I must admit I have shied away from purchasing some other books I've wanted due to girth.
Human Acts flows in much the same way The Vegetarian does; the story is told from many different perspectives - a boy searching for his friend's body and a soul searching for its body. There are other voices as well, but to be honest, I had a hard time discerning who exactly those voices were. Human Acts tells the story of a government's vicious response to a student uprising. The writing holds no punches. There are stunningly graphic depictions of the violence that takes place and the resulting gruesomeness of mass amounts of corpses. If you don't like descriptions of violence and corporeal responses to said violence, perhaps take a pass on this book.
I found the language and descriptions used throughout the story to be wrought with feeling and a weightiness befitting the story being told. I didn't feel any of the graphic nature of the descriptions was over-the-top. In fact, it felt like it was the right amount of power to be placed in the words that try to describe horrific acts.
I feel like saying "I liked Human Acts" is a little dismissive of the breadth and depth of the story being told. It left a mark on me, just as The Vegetarian had.
Zac's take on Human Acts by Han Kang
There is a beauty and simplicity to that lends Han King's writing the clarity of an absolutely clear pond or stream. That kind of clarity allows you to see every pebble and bubble of oxygen, every leaf that floats on the surface. The shifts in sunlight reflecting and refracting off the bottom become nuanced to the point of distraction.
So it is with Human Acts, her novel that brought to me the massacre of students and innocent civilians during an “uprising” in South Korea in such a visceral way as to almost be a distraction. The novel starts with piles and piles of corpses in varying states of mutilation and decay, and over time this concrete and corporeal realness unwinds and shifts to the perspective of one of the recently murdered students and then again to those who survived and still struggling with the weight of their survival.
It’s a brutal portrayal that makes you question the randomness of death, what lengths people will go to for the smallest measure of freedom or justice and reveals exactly how much we take for granted on a daily basis. Reading this was a learning experience for me in several ways – one as a novice student of history with a glaring blind spot of the Korean peninsula and as a writer who learned that anything is possible and you can do what you want, as long as you do it honestly and with feeling.