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Human Acts: A Novel (Paperback)
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From the internationally bestselling author of The Vegetarian, a “rare and astonishing” (The Observer) portrait of political unrest and the universal struggle for justice.
“Compulsively readable, universally relevant, and deeply resonant . . . in equal parts beautiful and urgent.”—The New York Times Book Review
Shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award • One of the Best Books of the Year: The Atlantic, San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, HuffPost, Medium, Library Journal
Amid 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; and to Dong-ho's own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.
An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.
About the Author
Han Kang was born in 1970 in South Korea. In 1993 she made her literary debut as a poet, and was first published as a novelist in 1994. A participant in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, Han has won the Man Booker International Prize, the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Manhae Prize for Literature. She currently works as a professor in the department of creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.
“Stunning . . . Han Kang has an ambition as large as Milton’s struggle with God: She wants to reconcile the ways of humanity to itself.”—NPR
“Human Acts is unique in the intensity and scale of this brutality. . . . The novel details a bloody history that was deliberately forgotten and is only now being recovered.”—The Nation
“Exquisitely crafted.”—O: the Oprah Magazine
“Human Acts speaks 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
“Engrossing . . . Unnerving and painfully immediate . . . [Human Acts] is torturously compelling, a relentless portrait of death and agony that never lets you look away. Han’s prose . . . 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.”—Los Angeles Times
“Revelatory . . . nothing short of breathtaking . . . 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
“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.”—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
“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.”—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
“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.”—Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“Inventive, intense and provocative . . . a work of considerable bravery . . . Human Acts is a profound act of protest in itself.”—Newsday