Sidharth Vardhan

Of Han Kang’s ‘Human Acts’

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Published: 2015
In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho's best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories;…

(A review of 'Human Acts'
a novel by Han Kang)

“I still remember the moment when my gaze fell upon the mutilated face of a young woman, her features slashed through with a bayonet. Soundlessly, and without fuss, some tender thing deep inside me broke. Something that, until then, I hadn't realised was there.”

Han Kang (Human Acts)

A semi-fictional account of unnecessarily violent supression of a student uprising in Han Kang's home town, Gwangju, South Korea in 1980 through point of view of inter-related characters. I guess it would have been brutal to expect another 'The Vegetarian' from her but this is beautiful in its own way - showing what it means having to live through such incidences - how it changes the way one sees the world:

“Is it true that human beings are fundamentally cruel? Is the experience of cruelty the only thing we share as a species? Is the dignity that we cling to nothing but self-delusion, masking from ourselves the single truth: that each one of us is capable of being reduced to an insect, a ravening beast, a lump of meat? To be degraded, slaughtered - is this the essential of humankind, one which history has confirmed as inevitable?”

Han Kang (Human Acts)

Gwangju Massacre Sidharth Vardhan review analysis Human Acts Han Kang
Gwangju Massacre

what it means to lose someone dear to illogical brutalities of psychopaths that seem to be getting hold of power everywhere - that is, to lose them so entirely both body and soul taken away from you (there must be something soothing for a grieving person in the acts of last rites, something that helps them to come to terms with their loss - and several mothers were deprived of that 'something'):

“After you died I could not hold a funeral,
And so my life became a funeral.”

“After you were lost to us, all our hours declined into evening.
Evening are our streets and our houses.
In this half-light that no longer darkens nor lightens, we eat, and walk, and sleep.”

Han Kang (Human Acts)

Mangwal Dong Cemetry sidharth vardhna review analysis human acts Han Kang
Mangwal Dong cemetry where the victims are buried

and how survival in such cases is just a relative term - how you come out of such things different, broken irreparably (remember Headth Ledger's 'Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stranger.")

“I'm fighting alone, every day. I fight with the hell that I survived. I fight with the fact of my own humanity. I fight with the idea that death is the only way of escaping this fact.”

“Some memories never heal. Rather than fading with the passage of time, those memories become the only things that are left behind when all else is abraded. The world darkens, like electric bulbs going out one by one. I am aware that I am not a safe person.”

Han Kang (Human Acts)

More Quotes

“Glass is transparent, right? And fragile. That's the fundamental nature of glass. And that's why objects that are made of glass have to be handled with care. After all, if they end up smashed or cracked or chipped, then they're good for nothing, right, you just have to chuck them away.
Before, we used to have a kind of glass that couldn't be broken. A truth so hard and clear it might as well have been made of glass. So when you think about it, it was only when we were shattered that we proved we had souls. That what we really were was humans made of glass.”

Han Kang (Human Acts)

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