In 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.
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.
Human Acts by Han Kang
Publication Date: January 17, 2017 by Hogarth
…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?
Human Acts is a powerful and unsettling story about the Gwangju Uprising and the long-lasting impact President Chun Doo Hwan’s vicious military response to civilians standing up for democracy had on the people who lived through it.
The novel starts out with the story of a young boy named Dong-ho and Kang’s choice to tell the events that occur in the second person POV created a more intimate experience than third person POV would have. Knowing what would happen to him, I quickly felt grief for a person I only came to know in the first few pages of the novel.
Kang does not hold back in sharing with the reader what it was like to be in Gwangju leading up to the student uprising. Volunteers housing and creating an identification system for hundreds of dead civilians, grieving families and loved ones coming in the hopes of finding their missing spouses, children, friends, etc. and many times being unsuccessful in their search. Mass funeral ceremonies and a constant, underlying sense of fear for their lives and the lives of those they love while living under a dictator who didn’t think twice about murdering hundreds of his own people.
Our bodies are piled on top of each other in the shape of a cross.
After Dong-ho’s murder, the story moves on to chapters told by those connected to him in life with the first narrated by his friend, Jeong-dae. Unlike Dong-ho’s story, Jeong-dae’s is told in the first person POV which only lends to experiencing the brutality of what happened to him and those around him. As the novel progresses, the chapters told by others who knew and cared for Dong-ho move along to become further separated by the events of May 1980 by time, but it is clear that even time couldn’t take away the impact that week had on those who lived through it.
She had no faith in humanity. The look in someone’s eyes, the beliefs they espoused, the eloquence with which they did so, were, she knew, no guarantee of anything.
While Human Acts is a visceral and deeply personal story, it also leaves unanswered many unsettling questions about conscience and what would lead people to behave in such horrific and brutal ways against their fellow humans. Han Kang has written yet another poignant and powerful novel that will haunt the reader long after finishing the last page.
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.