Review: Human Acts by Han Kang

30091914Published: January 17th 2017 (first published 2014)

Translated by: Deborah Smith

Publisher: Hogarth

Genres: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Korean Literature

Source: Purchased Harcover

My Rating: 5stars-600x201 (1)

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

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.

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I had high expectations for this book, and they were met, tenfold. I am awed by the brilliance of this horrific story. After reading The Vegetarian last year, I knew that I would be in line for the next book by Kang to be translated into English. Human Acts is a novel that will make you want to stop reading, but at the same time have you turning the pages, unable to help yourself. Get ready for a gruesomely detailed story about the 1980 Gwangju Uprising.

Interestingly enough, not all of this story is fiction. I’m not talking about the fact that the Gwangju Uprising did happen. No, I’m saying that there was a boy named Dong-ho, and that Han Kang actually grew up in the house he lived in; her family fleeing to Seoul. Yeah, that was a big WTF moment for me while reading.

While this is an extreme story, I found myself unable to stop reading all of the gory details of how a peaceful protest turned violent. The South Korean government took “human acts” to a whole other level. All because students were protesting Chun Doo-hwan’s presidency. Which I would have protested as well, since Chun wasn’t elected for the position to begin with. 

Dong-ho’s story is heartbreaking, as are the other characters’ stories. Dead bodies are piled up, families are torn apart, and people are trying to get away from or get justice for the atrocities that are circling around them. I wanted to cry because it absolutely makes me ill to know these things. Mankind has made it known that there is just no end to the horrible things we do to each other. I’ve long come to the conclusion that there is no hope. 

 I wholeheartedly recommend Human Acts to those who love historical fiction. There is so much history about the world that we don’t know about, and it’s authors like Kang that I respect for bringing these horrific stories to our attention. I don’t even think Smith was able to express all of Kang’s emotions in this one, but she damn well did enough. I am just so glad that I picked this one up. This is one that I highly recommend!

Also by Han Kang: The Vegetarian 

13 thoughts on “Review: Human Acts by Han Kang

  1. I have heard it was based on reality and that is why I didn’t pick it up. I didn’t think I was ready for the emotions to come pouring out. You have me curious though and while I’m still not sure this is the time for me to pick it up, you really did put it on my wishlist.


  2. I’d seen the cover of this one around, and although it looked interesting I didn’t think it would be anything for me. But this sounds like a really good, well written story and as if it is emotional as well. And when you discover a story is a true story, it just hits you even harder… Adding it to my TBR right now.


  3. ohwow, I was eyeing this before but now I should really just get this especially since I love historical fiction (heart breaking historical fiction is basically my weakness). Great review, Lekeisha!


  4. Yes, now I see what you meant about being tugged between setting it down and needing to continue. A story like this, not all fiction, sticks with you and changes you. I’m glad its there and it was as good as it needed to be considering what it is about.

    Well thought review, Lekeisha!


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