In the second episode of Literary Canon Ball we discuss Han Kang's Human Acts.
Originally published in Korean in 2014 before being translated by Deborah Smith and published in English in 2016, Han Kang’s Human Acts is a story told in seven parts, from seven different perspectives.
At its centre is the uprising and brutal massacre that took place in Gwangju in 1980 in South Korea. The story begins in 1980 with Dong-Ho, a middle-schooler who has found himself working in the makeshift morgue where the bodies of those slaughtered are piled up. From there we pulled to the soul of a murdered boy, to an editor struggling to publish work in the face of government censorship, to a victim of torture recounting their experiences after the uprising to a professor, to a former factory girl and then to Dong-Ho’s mother, almost completing a circle. But it is the seventh, and final, chapter, that of Han Kang herself, whose family moved away from Gwangju before the uprising, that acts as the final piece of this puzzle, the story stretching from 1980 to 2013.