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Human Acts

Human Acts by Han Kang
Paperback
Oct 17, 2017 | 240 Pages
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    Oct 17, 2017 | 240 Pages

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    Jan 17, 2017 | 240 Pages

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Praise

“Compulsively readable, universally relevant and deeply resonant… It lacerates, it haunts, it dreams, it mourns… ‘Human Acts’ is, in equal parts, beautiful and urgent.”—New York Times Book Review

Human Acts is unique in the intensity and scale of this brutality… [T]he novel details a bloody history that was deliberately forgotten and is only now being recovered.”—The Nation 

“[Han Kang’s] new novel, Human Acts, showcases the same talent for writing about corporeal horrors, this time in the context of the 1980 Gwangju uprising.”—TIME Magazine

“Han Kang’s Human Acts speak the unspeakable.” —Vanity Fair
 
“The long wake of the killings plays out across the testimonies of survivors as well as the dead, in scenarios both gorily real and beautifully surreal.”—Vulture

“Human Acts is stunning. Book reviews evaluate how well a book does what it sets out to do, and so we sometimes write nice things about books that perfectly fulfill trivial aims. Otherwise, we’d always be complaining that romance novels or political thrillers fail to justify the ways of God to men. But Han Kang has an ambition as large as Milton’s struggle with God: She wants to reconcile the ways of humanity to itself.”—NPR.org
 
 “Engrossing… The result is torturously compelling, a relentless portrait of death and agony that never lets you look away. Han’s prose—as translated by Deborah Smith—is both spare and dreamy, full of haunting images and echoing language. She mesmerizes, drawing you into the horrors of Gwangju; questioning humanity, implicating everyone… Unnerving and painfully immediate.”—Los Angeles Times
 
 “Revelatory … nothing short of breathtaking… In the end, what Han has re-created is not just an extraordinary record of human suffering during one particularly contentious period in Korean history, but also a written testament to our willingness to risk discomfort, capture, even death in order to fight for a cause or help others in times of need.”—San Francisco Chronicle
 
 “But where Kang excels is in her unflinching, unsentimental descriptions of death. I am hard pressed to think of another novel that deals so vividly and convincingly with the stages of physical decay. Kang’s prose does not make for easy reading, but there is something admirable about this clear-eyed rendering of the end of life.”—Boston Globe
 
 “Absorbing… Han uses her talents as a storyteller of subtlety and power to bring this struggle out of the middle distance of ‘history’ and into the intimate space of the irreplaceable human individual.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Kang explores the sprawling trauma of political brutality with impressive nuance and the piercing emotional truth that comes with masterful fiction… a fiercely written, deeply upsetting, and beautifully human novel.”—Kirkus Reviews
 
“Kang is an incredible storyteller who raises questions about the purpose of humanity and the constant tension between good and evil through the heartbreaking experiences of her characters. Her poetic language shifts fluidly from different points of view, while her fearless use of raw, austere diction emulates the harsh conflicts and emotions raging throughout the plot. This jarring portrayal of the Gwangju demonstrations will keep readers gripped until the end.”—Booklist (starred)
 
“With Han Kang’s The Vegetarian awarded the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, her follow-up will garner extra scrutiny. Bottom line? This new work, again seamlessly translated by Deborah Smith, who also provides an indispensable contextual introduction, is even more stupendous.”Library Journal (starred)

“Pristine, expertly paced, and gut-wrenching… Human Acts grapples with the fallout of a massacre and questions what humans are willing to die for and in turn what they must live through. Kang approaches these difficult and inexorable queries with originality and fearlessness, making Human Acts a must-read for 2017.”—Chicago Review of Books
 
 “Though her subject matter is terrifying, her prose is too beautiful, her images too perfectly crystallized to wince and turn away from them… ‘Human Acts’ is a slim novel weighted with philosophical and spiritual inquiry, but if offers no consolations. Rather, it grapples with who we are, what we are able to endure, and what we inflict upon other people…”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch  
 
“Kang interconnects the chapters in her novel to focus on characters who are irreparably affected by the historic Gwangju Uprising in South Korea in May 1980, in which government troops killed an estimated 600 protesters. The Guardian calls it ‘an act of unflinching witness.’”—Sacramento Bee  
 
“Reading about human acts like these can be excruciating. But true to the urgency conveyed through its frequent use of second-person narration, Han’s book is also filled with human acts involving profiles in courage that inspire hope… In a novel whose heroes include editors, actors and writers—each battling to remember while censors try to forget—Han’s own book embodies the miracle this passage describes.”—Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel   
 
“Following The Vegetarian, one of the most stunning novels of 2016, Human Acts is yet another belatedly translated work from South Korean writer Han Kang. Centering on the killing of a young boy during a student uprising, the novel follows the rippling effects of the tragedy.”—Huffington Post
 
“[E]xquisitely crafted.”—O, the Oprah Magazine

“After dazzling us with The Vegetarian, which won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, Han Kang is dropping another amazing read. Set in South Korea in 1980, in the wake of a student protest turned horrifically violent, the book follows a cast of characters as they deal with the harrowing consequences of that day.”—Bustle

“…Inventive, intense and provocative…a work of considerable bravery…’Human Acts’ is a profound act of protest in itself.”—Newsday
 
“Kang’s forthcoming Human Acts focuses on the 1980 Korean Gwangju Uprising, when Gwangju locals took up arms in retaliation for the massacre of university students who were protesting. Within Kang tries to unknot ‘two unsolvable riddles’ — the intermingling of two innately human yet disparate tendencies, the capacity for cruelty alongside that for selflessness and dignity.” —The Millions
 
“This novel is a thoughtful and humane answer to difficult questions and a moving tribute to victims of the atrocity.”—BookPage  
 
“South Korean novelist Han first gained attention stateside with The Vegetarian, her first novel to be translated into English, last year. This follow-up novel follows a group of people who are affected both directly and indirectly by the death of a young boy during a violent student protest in South Korea.”—Men’s Journal (online)
 
“Han Kang made a big splash last year with The Vegetarian. Using several points of view to delve into the death of one adolescent boy during the Gwangju Uprising, Human Acts will surely continue Kang’s praise among critics and readers… Human Acts ruthlessly examines what people are capable of doing to one another, but also considers how the value of one life can affect many.”—Book Riot
 
“Han Kang’s first novel to appear in English, The Vegetarian, was one of the most jarring works of fiction we’ve read in a while. Human Acts takes a broader view of humanity, focusing on a host of reactions to the death of a young man in a political action in South Korea. We’re looking forward to experiencing her prose in a new context with this novel.”—Vol. 1 Brooklyn

Human Acts is elegantly written, unflinchingly brutal and absolutely real. It is not so much a novel as it is a profound act of connection; it is beyond powerful. Han Kang is what most writers spend their lives trying to be: a fearless, unsentimental teller of human truths.”—Lisa McInerney, Baileys Women’s Prize-winning author of The Glorious Heresies

“This is a book that could easily founder under the weight of its subject matter. Neither inviting nor shying away from modern-day parallels, Han neatly unpacks the social and political catalysts behind the massacre and maps its lengthy, toxic fallout. But what is remarkable is how she accomplishes this while still making it a novel of blood and bone. The characters frequently address themselves to an unnamed “You”… This sense of dislocation is most obvious when a dead boy’s soul converses with his own rotting flesh – and it’s here that the language comes closest to the gothic lyricism of Han’s previous book, The Vegetarian…By choosing the novel as her form, then allowing it to do what it does best – take readers to the very centre of a life that is not their own – Han prepares us for one of the most important questions of our times: “What is humanity? What do we have to do to keep humanity as one thing and not another?” She never answers, but this act of unflinching witness seems as good a place to start as any.”—Eimear McBride, The Guardian 

“Harrowing…Han’s novel is an attempt to verbalize something unspeakable… But she humanizes the terrible violence by focusing on the more mundane aspects: tending and transporting bodies, or attempting to work an ordinary job years later. And by placing the reader in the wake of Dong-ho’s memory, preserved by his family and friends, Han has given a voice to those who were lost.”—Publishers Weekly

“With exquisitely controlled eloquence, the novel chronicles the tragedy of ordinariness violated…In the echo chambers of Han’s haunting prose, precisely and poetically rendered by Smith, the sound of that heartbeat resonates with defiant humanity.”—New Statesman

“Han Kang’s writing is clear and controlled and she handles the explosive, horrifying subject matter with great warmth.”—The Times

Searing…In Human Acts  [Kang] captures the paradox of being human: the meat-like, animal reduction of our humanity—the dead bodies of the beginning chapter – alongside our ability to love and suffer for our principles, and die for them, that make us truly human. She is excellent in summarizing this paradox… If it hopes to tie the personal with the political, it does the former so much more powerfully: a mother thinking of her dead son, for example, displays literary mastery – as subtle and specific as it is universally heartbreaking.”—The Independent

“A technical and emotional triumph… A conversation of which we rarely hear both sides: the living talking to the dead, and the dead speaking back.”—The Sunday Telegraph (5 star review)

“A grim but heartfelt performance, touching on the possibility of forgiveness and the survival of the spirit.”—The Sunday Times

“Harrowing…Human Acts portrays people whose self-determination is under threat from terrifying external forces; it is a sobering meditation on what it means to be human.”—Financial Times
“A harrowing journey… By its very existence Human Acts is an important and necessary book…Astonishing.”—The National

Human Acts is a stunning piece of work. The language is poetic, immediate, and brutal. Han Kang has again proved herself to be a deft artist of storytelling and imagery.” — Jess Richards

“A rare and astonishing book, sensitively translated by Deborah Smith, Human Acts enrages, impassions, and most importantly, gives voices back to who were silenced” —The Observer (UK)

Awards

Malaparte Prize WINNER 2017

Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction LONGLIST 2018

Author Q&A

A Conversation with
Han Kang,
Man Booker International Prize–winning
author of The Vegetarian
and Human Acts
(Available in paperback October 17, 2017)


You were born in Gwangju, where the massacre in Human Acts occurs. How did it impact you when you were growing up?
 
I was born in Gwangju and moved up to Seoul with my family when I was nine, hardly four months before the massacre. We had moved purely by chance and because of this seemingly minor decision we remained unscathed. That fact became a kind of survivor’s guilt and troubled my family for a long time. I was twelve when I first saw a photo book, produced and circulated in secret, to bear witness to the massacre. My father had brought it back with him after visiting Gwangju. After it had been passed around the adults, it was hidden away in a bookcase, spine facing backward. I opened it unwittingly, having no idea what it contained. I was too young to know how to receive the proof of overwhelming violence that was contained in those pages. How could human beings do such things to one another? On the heels of this first question, another swiftly followed: What can we do in the face of such violence? In that way, I was presented with two unsolvable riddles—that of human violence and that of human dignity, stamped on my heart like a seal.
 
 
Why did you decide to write about the massacre?
 
I can say the massacre had a significant influence on my writing. The questions about being human had been a sort of homework for me. I had to penetrate the incident, at a moment in the winter of 2012, to go on with my writing. People seem to regard Human Acts as a huge transformation in my writing career but for me, this novel is closely connected to my previous novels. Human Acts is an attempt to answer the questions that had utmost importance to me.
 
 
How did you develop the different characters in Human Acts?
 
I read the materials about May 1980 for some months. These characters are not exactly connected to people who exist(ed). However, you could say that almost all the things that happen in this book are inspired by reality. I wanted to dedicate this book to the boy who didn’t make it through the spring. Then I imagined the survivors who have remembered him and called him. I wanted to lend them my sensation and life.
 
 
You’ve been writing for years, in different genres, and won numerous prizes in South Korea. What’s the difference for you between writing, for example, poetry and fiction?
 
For me, poetry, short stories, and novels are all closely intertwined. My first poetry collection was published a couple of years ago. Out of the hundred-plus poems I’d written, I chose sixty and arranged them into five sections; I was able to discern a similar feeling uniting those poems, which were written while I was also writing a particular novel. Of course these poems are independent from my prose fiction, but they had undoubtedly been influenced by the same questions and emotions that I’d lived with, and the images that had absorbed me while I was writing my novels. This process is extremely personal and intuitive, and so it isn’t easy to clarify. I can just say that a poem’s deepest connection is to language. It will come to me as a single line, which usually forms the beginning of the poem but sometimes ends up in the middle or at the end. These intuitive flashes find their way to me whenever I’m unwell or have to move house, when the flow of my life is interrupted by the trivial or the significant.
 
 
Do you find yourself returning to similar themes in your work?
 
In some ways I feel that I keep pushing my life forward little by little as I finish one novel and go on to the next. After just managing to complete the questions I had been holding onto in one novel, I move on to the next novel, the next questions, the next step in life. Sometimes I return to a similar theme, as I did when I wrote Human Acts after The Vegetarian. The two novels don’t seem to bear any external relation, but I can see that there is a quiet internal connection between them.
 
 
You spent time during the summer of 2014 at the British Centre for Literary Translation’s summer school. What did you learn there? What have you found through the process of having your own work translated?
 
It was a great pleasure for me to participate in these sessions, and I truly enjoyed the time we spent together. I have been fascinated by the delicacy of language from a young age, and it is still an important art of what keeps me going as a writer. During these sessions, which progressed as slowly as possible, and with surprising patience, I felt great happiness in sharing this delicacy.
 
 
Did you always want to be a writer?
 
Yes, since I was fourteen.
 
 
You’ve had a remarkable year, including winning the Man Booker International Prize in May. How has the attention changed the way you write?
 
Hopefully nothing. I have lived a very personal life. I am writing slowly every day.
 
 
What are you working on now?
 
My new book was published in Korea last June, and will be out in the UK in November 2017. It isn’t easy to classify the book. It could be called a novella or a prose poem. Now I am working on my next novel. I don’t want to rush. I am writing slowly.

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