Human Acts (Paperback, 2017, Portobello Books) 5 stars

One Face Among Many

5 stars

Han Kang's Human Acts is a story of grief from genocide that spans over thirty years. Ostensibly, it is a series of short stories that centre on the Guangju Uprising in South Korea in 1980, and its aftermath. But within this frame, Kang focuses the lens on one protagonist, Dong Ho, who is loosely or closely connected with the characters in the other chapters. She uses Dong Ho to connect the namelessness of a massacre with a very real (albeit fictional) child.

The storytelling as presented in the translation is excellent, visceral, beautiful and heartbreaking. Each character is fleshed out by Kang's brilliant ability to make words into humans. And in the end, this makes the book not only a lament but a powerful force. The repeat references to bodies (sweat, pain, "sacks of meat") are deeply evocative, and the thinly veiled references to US involvement in the mistreatment of Korean textile workers while propping up a dictatorship are brave even today. The final result is a masterpiece of literature that somehow manifests the grief of many people simultaneously.