Tag Archives: Han Kang

The Psychogeography of Grief

Image result for 흰

Writing for The Guardian, Deborah Levy has some very nice things to say about the new book on the cusp of international release in English from the award-winning author of The Vegetarian in a piece titled “The White Book by Han Kang review – the fragility of life.”

Han Kang is the South Korean author who shot to worldwide literary fame when her book about a non-meat eater won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016. It also earned its translator, @londonkoreanist (aka Deborah Smith), heaps and heaps of praise for her artistic and articulate translation.

As Ms. Levy contends, Han Kang has maintained her poise as a skilled, humanistic author in The White Book (“흰” in Korean) – a “fragmented autobiographical meditation on the death of the unnamed narrator’s baby sister, who died two hours after her birth” – through “writing [that] edges close to becoming a brilliant psychogeography of grief, moving as it does between place, history and memory.”

For her own part, Deborah Smith has kept up with what is purported to be another excellent translation, like this poignant excerpt from The White Book:

“I wanted to show you clean things. Before brutality, sadness, despair, filth, pain, clean things that were only for you, clean things above all. But it didn’t come off as I intended. Again and again I peered into your eyes, as though searching for form in a deep, black mirror.”

The review ends by saying “If Han’s monotone is relentlessly poised and never flinches from serene dignity, perhaps it could not be written in any other way…The White Book is a mysterious text, perhaps in part a secular prayer book…[that] succeeds in reflecting Han’s urgent desire to transcend pain with language.

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North Korea’s First Novel

Is fiction from North Korea…fictitious? Apparently not. Shhhhhhhh…don’t tell Sir Lord Viceroy Douchebag Kim Jong-un that his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, and his glorious revolution may not be portrayed all that, um, you know, gloriously? Viva la revolución! Er…만세!!!

Good on Toronto’s @HouseofAnansi publishing house for securing the Canadian rights to “The first piece of fiction to come out of North Korea.” The book, called The Accusation, was written by a North Korean under the pseudonym Bandi (Korean for “firefly”) and released yesterday, March 4, in Canada. Perhaps the most frightening part of whole story is that Bandi reportedly still lives in North Korea. Gulp.

Per House of Anansi’s website, here’s a summary of Bandi and his/her novel:

In 1989, a North Korean dissident writer, known to us only by the pseudonym Bandi, began to write a series of stories about life under Kim Il-sung’s totalitarian regime. Smuggled out of North Korea and set for publication around the world in 2017, The Accusation provides a unique and shocking window into this most secretive of countries.

Bandi’s profound, deeply moving, vividly characterized stories tell of ordinary men and women facing the terrible absurdity of daily life in North Korea: a factory supervisor caught between loyalty to an old friend and loyalty to the Party; a woman struggling to feed her husband through the great famine; the staunch Party man whose actor son reveals to him the theatre that is their reality; the mother raising her child in a world where the all-pervasive propaganda is the very stuff of childhood nightmare.

The Accusation is a heartbreaking portrayal of the realities of life in North Korea. It is also a reminder that humanity can sustain hope even in the most desperate of circumstances — and that the courage of free thought has a power far beyond those who seek to suppress it.

FYI, there is both a print version ($19.95) and a digital version ($16.95) available through House of Anansi’s website. Also FYI, the translator of The Accusation is none other than Deborah Smith, the same British woman who translated Han Kang‘s Man Booker International Prize-winning novel, The Vegetarian.

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