Print Reviews: The Vegetarian AND Human Acts

                                 The Vegetarian.jpgHuman Acts.jpg

The Vegetarian
By Han Kang
Penguin Random House | Hogarth
Release Date (Paperback): February 02, 2016
ISBN-13: 978-0553448184
LITERARY FICTION

This is a lit-fic novella which won the author the ManBooker International Prize. Set in South Korea, the story features a married woman who suddenly decides to become a vegetarian. This sets up a chain reaction of strange, and dramatic responses from her husband, father, brother-in-law, and sister. At first, the story feels alien and weird even given the foreign setting; but once the reader becomes acclimated to the style and tone, the material is thought provoking. This is somewhat of a modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” (And no surprise, it is published by Hogarth!)

Human Acts
By Han Kang
Penguin Random House | Hogarth
Release Date (Paperback): January 17, 2017
ISBN-13: 978-1101906729
LITERARY FICTION

In 1980, in a Southern Korean province, a democratic uprising against the tyrannical government was brutally quashed by soldiers. Known as the Gawngju Uprising, its violence and toll in human lives was shocking: An estimated 2,000 people were summarily executed. Amongst the casualties was a fifteen-year old boy named Dong-Ho; and his death is the centerpiece of Han Kang’s sophomore effort. The author utilizes the Roshomon Effect in driving the plot forward though the years, revealing events though six sections told from various POVs: That of Dong-Ho himself; Dong-Ho’s friend; An editor; A prisoner; A factory girl; and Dong-Ho’s mother. There is an Epilogue, which is not part of the story; but an actual statement form the author regarding her connection to the fictionalized account that she has written. The events recounted are unflinchingly savage, its effects scarring the survivors mentally and physically for years after the uprising itself. Han Kang’s writing is tighter and more grounded than it is in The Vegetarian, perhaps owing to a more concrete set of events at hand (history) as opposed to the performance-piece-like style of her debut novel in the West. That said, there were a few places where the translation or style felt a little awkward: The shift from third-person omniscient to first-person accusatory was disconcerting; and replacing South Korean vernacular with Yorkshire idiomacy was jarring. Overall, however, the novel was powerful; and intentional or not, relevant in today’s political climate in asking the question, “How far would you go to be on the right side of history?”

OTHER: I purchased a hardback copy of The Vegetarian (by Han Kang) from Barnes & Noble in Medford, OR and; I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of Human Acts (by Han Kang) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

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