The White book by Han Kang

 

Image result for han kang white book cover

The White Book by Han Kang

Korean fiction

Original title – 흰

Translator – Deborah Smith

Source – personal copy

I must admit first up for me as a reader, I was never as swept away by the vegetarian as some other readers were. So when this Han Kang’s latest book was on the longlist ,I wasn’t maybe as keen to read this as some as the others on the longlist. This is the third book from Han Kang to be translated to English and was published in Korea in 2016. It is also a different book from the first two books as for me it is a narrative prose piece for me.

Faced with that question, it was this death that came to me. It was a story which I had grown up inside.The most helpless of all young animals. Pretty little baby, white as moon shaped rice cakes. How I’d been born and grown up in the place of that death.

“White as moon-shaped rice cake” which never made sense until at six, I was old enough to help out with making rice cakes for Chuseok, forming the dough into small crescent moons. Before being steamed, those bright white shapes of rice dough are a thing so lovely they do not seem of this world.

I loved this image of the rice moon and child’s face.

Now for me as an English reader the white book as a title seems less dark than if this book was called the Black book , but in a way that  should be the real title of the book. It is a series of small vignettes split into three sections that mainly focus on the birth of Han Kang’s older sister that was born and died after two hours after her mother 22 gave birth. A child that is described as looking like a rice moon cake when born the first section the vignettes seem to interlinking with a few recurring motifs in the prose pieces a list of white objects , but as the pieces unfold we see how white is never really white. From the child’s face to a moon rice to snow in all its forms from thick blizzards to sleet showers. An ode to a sister that was never known but also to the colour of mourning in Korea which is white and things connected to mourning in Korea like rice also the is a colour connection of Blood mention and the fact in Korea Red chilli powder is put in the rice at a funeral. A wonderful mix of piece that draw you as a reader into a young woman”s grief but also a poetic vision of grief and mourning.

sleet

There is none of us whom life regards with any partiality. Sleet falls as she walks these streets, holding this knowledge inside her. Sleet that leaves cheeks and eyebrows heavy with moisture, Everything passes. She bears this rememberance – the knowledge that everything she has clung to will fall away from her and vanish- through the streets where sleet falling, that is neither rain nor now, neither ice nor water, that dampens her eyebrows and steams from her forehead whether she stands still or hurries on closes her eyes or opens them

Such a poets mix of life and death in a vision of sleet.

I so pleased this has come after the vegetarian as anything after this would be a let down for me as a reader this book has a fragile nature like a pile of rice barely held together. It has a sense of the fragile nature of life the sense of grief of losing a daughter so early in ones own life. But also the poetic side of the list of white things that litter the book. The ones around snow I found so poetic the way sleet turns to water on contact with skin almost like the daughter life a brief moment of time this is about how brief life. This is a perfect choice of why I read world lit these books that open our eyes as readers to the wider world poetic visions and grief so

 

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sarah
    Mar 24, 2018 @ 18:21:41

    I was really captured by the Vegetarian, so this was already on my radar to read at some point, but those quotes have stopped me in my tracks. I’ll have to get hold of a copy sooner rather than later!

    Reply

  2. 1streading
    Mar 26, 2018 @ 19:16:16

    I think this is a very rich book that certainly pays re-reading.Don’t really agree with the idea (in Asymptote) that it;s inclusion is a but odd as it isn’t really a novel. By that reasoning neither is the vastly inferior The Dinner Guest.

    Reply

  3. Trackback: Happy Easter that was the month of March 2018 | Winstonsdad's Blog

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