HU­MAN ACTS BY HAN KANG

India Today - - LEISURE - —Shougat Das­gupta

Korean poet and nov­el­ist Han Kang has been an es­teemed lit­er­ary fig­ure in her home­land for decades. In 2007, she pub­lished a slim tri­par­tite story about a woman who de­cides, to the mys­ti­fi­ca­tion and then anger of her hus­band, to forgo meat be­cause she’d “had a dream”. It’s a novel of extreme vi­o­lence, both phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal, but also deep sen­sual plea­sure. In 2010, it be­came an ac­claimed film, and five years later, was trans­lated into English as The Veg­e­tar­ian, win­ning the Man Booker In­ter­na­tional prize in 2016. In Han’s hands, a woman’s or­di­nary, if sud­den, de­ci­sion to be­come veg­e­tar­ian be­comes an al­le­gory for re­fusal, anger, con­trol, sub­ver­sion, death and de­sire. The trans­la­tion by Deb­o­rah Smith, a young Bri­tish woman who ad­mit­ted to pick­ing Korean on a whim, is both vivid and beau­ti­ful.

Hu­man Acts, also trans­lated by Smith, ad­dresses a cen­tral event that oc­cu­pies Han’s writerly con­science. In May 1980, in the city of Gwangju, stu­dents had demonstrated against Chun Doohwan, a gen­eral who had seized power in a coup. The re­bel­lion was sup­pressed and hun­dreds were tor­tured or killed. Han writes: “When my gaze fell upon the mu­ti­lated face of a young woman, her fea­tures slashed through with a bay­o­net... some ten­der thing deep in­side me broke. Some­thing that, un­til then, I hadn’t even re­alised was there.”

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