I read Han Kang’s debut The Vegetarian last year and one of the things I loved about it was the feel that it was actually a series of novellas stitched together to create a greater whole. In Human Acts she achieves that to even greater effect; the story combines different narratives, points of view and perspectives on the 1980 Gwanju uprising.
One of the things I found most striking about Human Acts is the voice Han Kang gives to the dead; either through narration or giving even the most fleeting character- shot down in the uprising- a backstory. The other; the fact that she doesn’t shy away from the gruesome details of what goes on behind the scenes of a popular uprising. There’s no romanticisation (a warning for graphic descriptions of torture) and it feels like an important story to tell and an important voice to give.
Again I liked the feel that the story was actually a collection of interlocking vignettes. It wasn’t a group of short stories as such, but an overlapping and interwoven peaks in to the lives of a group affected by political turmoil. It’s beautifully written and translated (again, Han Kang and Deborah Smith work fantastically together) and it reads like being immersed in the fear, pain and uncertainty of political oppression.
I will warn, again, that are some very painful sequences in the book; if you don’t feel comfortable reading about torture and death then I would steer clear. However, for me, this is flawless storytelling.