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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the vegetarian by Han Kang

The vegetarian by Han Kang

korean Fiction

Original title – 채식주의자

Translator – Deborah smith

Source – review copy

 

Heifer whines could be human cries
closer comes the screaming knife
this beautiful creature must die
this beautiful creature must die
a death for no reason
and death for no reason is MURDER
and the flesh you so fancifully fry
is not succulent, tasty or nice
it is death for no reason
and death for no reason is MURDER
and the calf that you carve with a smile
is MURDER
and the turkey you festively slice
is MURDER

Back when this came out maybe being vegetarian was the same here as it was for Yeong -Hye in Korea .Of course only one lyric for this book Meat is murder by the mighty smiths .

I was sent this just before it came out and I read it back when it came out and was going to review it then , but the day I went to write a post I saw a couple of other people had posted and a few did the next day so rather than be a  small fish in a shoal of fish ,I decided to wait til this month as I thought well I’m sure folks would be interested at the time and a gentle nudge may make a few more people want to read this book .Han Kang Teaches creative writing at Seoul institute of arts and has won a number of prizes in her native Korea incurring the Korean Literature novel award .

Before my wife turned vegetarian .I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way . to be frank , the first time I met her I wasn’t even attracted to her .Middling height ; bobbed hair neither long nor short ; jaundiced , sickly-looking skin ; somewhat prominent cheekbones ; her timid sallow aspect told me all I needed to know .As she came up to the table where I was waiting .I couldn’t help but notice her shoes – the plainest black shoes imaginable ,and that walk of hers – neither fast nor slow , striding not mincing .

Well poor Yeong-Hye her husband didn’t even notice her the first time they met bar her plain shoes .

Well I was excited about this especially after hear a discussion on  trying to find Vegetarian restaurant on the three percent podcast made me aware that there is actually not many vegetarians or a culture of being vegetarian in Korea  so the main decision in this book is a hard one to make .This novel is a trio of stories about one wives Yeong-Hye journey into become vegetarian and how it affects her husband and her sister and brother-in-law the later whom happens to be a video artist and uses Yo=eong-Hye in what are becoming more and more sexual and erotic works of art .All this send this woman into a downward spiral of self-destruction and sees her own sister come near to the edge as well .We see the ripples of this decision to become vegetarian .

“Lie on your side for me ” slowly as though timing her movements to some music only she could hear , she bent her arms legs and waist and rolled onto her side . He panned the camera down the ridge of her side and over the soft curve of her buttocks , then filmed first the flowers  on her back the flowers of night and the the flowers of the sun on her front .

I choose this as it shows Yeong-Hye could be very sensual in another’s eyes

The book is really a study of what happens when one person decides to do something outside society’s norms .The trio of stories  or as I view them myself they are more like a triptych so the in three parts the start middle and end of this breaking of the norms of society . The beginning sees the family coping how families cope , rather extreme at times as she is almost force-fed at some points .The next part sees a woman slowly become alone , but as this happens falling into an unhealthy partnership with the failing artist of a brother-in-law .the last part well I leave that to you to find lout this book is one that ,makes you think what would make people react the way Yeong-Hye family and friends reacted in the uk these days . I’m not sure what but I think if someone say is from a strong religious , cultural background or class the fallout may be the same as in this book . It shows what happens when a person is pushed out .I was reminded of some of the great pieces of central european fiction for example Blaugast , I have read where the story is the flip  and it is a male  perspective  on  being on the outside of society .Also a great translation by Deborah who we all followed on twitter as she did this one of her first translations .I love the cover which you have to look art ever so carefully to fully get !!

Have you read this book or any other korean novel ?

The salmon who dared to leap higher by Ahn Do-Hyun

The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher

The salmon who dared to leap higher by Ahn Do-Hyun

Korean Fiction

Original title – 연어 이야기 (연어 그 두 번째 이야기)

Translator – Deborah Smith

Source – Review copy

 

 

“War Of Man”

The little creatures
run in from the cold
Back to the nest
just like the days of old
There in the safety
of a mother’s arms
The warmth of ages,
far away from harm again.

Ears ringin’
from the battle fire
The tired warrior
aims a little higher
The black falcon
or the little sparrow
The healing light
or the flash of the barrel.

I choose a song from Neil young his war of man ,which has an eco message behind it .

When this book dropped through the letter box the other week , I nearly put it too one side till I saw it was translated by Deborah , whom I have spoken with on twitter and had a brief chat with at LBF and did talk about this book as i finished it a few days before  .Although the cover was appealing as well . Ahn Do-Hyn has won numerous prizes in Korea including the so-wol poetry prize which is one of the best known poetry prizes in Korea .He studied Korean literature and this is his first book to be translated into English .

Silver salmon had managed to avoid becoming a meal for the fierce eagle .

And yet , something strange – rather than the giddy relief of having cheated death , he feels a pang of sadness at having escaped unharmed . Because the salmon who had been caught – the one who’d swum by his side ever since they left their home river ,

Silver salmon escapes the clutches of a fish eagle .

This book is part of a series of novels that are marketed in Korea as Adult fables (thanks to Deborah for that ) .The salmon who dared to leap higher is the story of one salmon’s journey  the silver salmon  as we follow them from the sea up the river he came from .The journey is a perilous one that sees many of the salmon’s swimming along side . We are told little stories of the companions along side  . The fish have to avoid eagles and bears as they try to get to the river head . Of course the book is more a fable of modern life in Korea and the river maybe is the everyday journey in life of Koreans they are maybe the salmon’s trying to reach the river head and mate have children etc .But also the world around them and the human world .

Bag-of-bones salmon was also in possessions of exceptional memory . His mind was like an enormous storehouse where all manner of facts are filed and preserved .Circling over the riverbed ,he mutters to himself , “Yes , the rapids have increased in height by 35 centimetres since we leapt down over them ”

The salmon remember the world through a sort of collective passing of tales almost their own fables .

I read this in one sitting , which for me is the sign of a book of  120 pages I have actually really enjoyed . This is a fun fable , I initially compared it in my head to Jonathan Livingstone seagull and yes the salmon of the story journey through its life is similar too Jonathan’s journey . But for me this is maybe more based in Korean culture , I was reminded of one of the other books I read from Korea on the Blog please look after mother and maybe this is the same story in a fable manner the salmon as a whole are trying to reach a point but some get eaten and some just can’t make the journey and this is maybe mirroring modern Korea where the country has jumped so quickly in the last fifty years since the end of the korean war .But also serves as a remind of the natural world around them .I feel Deborah did a great job of what must be a poetic book in the original Korean a lyrical feel to the story in english .I must admit I do love the cover art as well and the book has some great illustrations through the book capture the novella well .

Have you a favourite fable ?

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