Human acts should never ever be in conflict with human rights and Han Kang is one of many contemporary authors, who is not afraid to remind us harsh truths and events happening around us, now or before. What is humanity? Is being cruel something inherent in people? Are all fights worth fighting?
Human Acts follows stories of people, whose life has been painfully affected by The Gwangju Uprising and its aftermath. The uprising happened in South Korea between May 18 to 27, 1980, as a reaction to army general Chun Doo-hwan ruling as a leader of the state. Following military suppression killed between 600 – 2,000 people, mostly students who started the whole uprising off. Yes, no official numbers can be obtained, as many victims have been buried in mass graves, some unidentified, many other people has gone missing. (Please, read about it for example here.)
To read about human bestiality and atrocities is never a leisure read, however, Han Kang is apparently a master of balance in her writing; brutal descriptions are aptly embroiled in the storyline a powerful way, intensifying the weight of personal events. Presenting a story, based on a death of one person – in this case fifteen year old student Dong-ho – affects many people, who do not necessarily need to be close to her. What about bystanders, accidental witnesses, these, who tried to prevent the inevitable? How their life look like by then, and after? The story encounters a devastated mother, haunted by memories and regrets; an editor facing personal and professional hardships due to her painful experience and silencing censorship. Even though there is a big time gap among all described events – some are from the days of uprising, another are showing how experiences and affects persist even thirty years later – they all have one thing in common: few days in Gwangju, which have changed people’s life forever.
The most touching and disturbing fact is probably not all enormity of past events, but its recurring presence until these days. I’ve never heard about this horrific event before and surely, there are too many more citizens being brutalized, silenced and persecuted all around the world. Let’s not shy away from the sad truth about the current state of journalism, where important events, be it on a local, or international scale, are mostly presented almost marginally, and rather summarized retrospectively, because there are ‘more important things to write about’. *insert ironic face*
It’s almost incredible to encounter a book, where a shocking and outrageous theme is written such beautifully. I haven’t expected to finish Human Acts in one evening sitting, but I almost did. Even the prologue was powerful, making me admire Han Kang’s dedication even more – honestly, how many of us would like to dig deep into history of something, what should have never happened? Something so brutal, what would leave us sleepless, feeling sick, angry and vulnerable at the same time? Luckily, Han Kangs have done so, and Human Acts is a heartbreaking, excellent proof of it.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.