Han Kang: 소년이 온다 (Human Acts)

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The latest addition to my website is Han Kang‘s 소년이 온다 (Human Acts). This novel concerns the Gwangju Uprising of May 1980 against the military dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan. Han Kang was born and brought up in Gwanju and was nine at the time of the uprising. She very skilfully describes what happened, from the point of the view of the students who opposed the uprising, telling the stories of a few individuals involved. The military reaction was ferocious and brutal and she spares us no details, giving detailed description of the wounds on the dead bodies, of the putrefying bodies stacked and finally burned by the South Korean military (this section is narrates by the spirit of one of he dead students) and of the horrifying torture of those students found with guns. We also learn of the after-effects on the those that survived, with huge psychological trauma, frequent suicides and the inability to function properly in later life. Of the main characters that we meet, several are killed, others survive but with difficulty. It is a very grim book but superbly well written and tells us in the West about a period of South Korean history, though quite recent, which many of us will know little or nothing about.

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