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Where is the body, where is the soul?: A review of Han Kang’s “Human Acts”

Book cover of Han Kang’s novel Human Acts. There is a black background with two pale feet and legs on the front cover.

Han Kang is one of my new favourite authors. Her latest novel, “The Vegetarian”, is such an intriguing look into the human psyche. Her novel, “Human Acts” was translated into English and published in 2014. A basic summary of the novel would be it explores the complex nature of loss, violence, and death that accompanied the 1980 Gwanju Uprising in South Korea. However, it is much more than that.

The question of if the body and the soul are separate entities or one and the same has been an unanswerable question in many strands of philosophy since the beginning of time. This very question of: What is a body? What is a soul?, is at the centre of Kang’s text. The novel is split into what I would call acts. Each act tells the story of someone involved in the Gwanju Uprising and each person is linked by a single soul, Dong-ho. He becomes the common thread that brings everyone together, including the author, Kang, herself.

The story is violent. However, not in a sensationalised way. The novel has a way of pulling you under, and the experiences of those who suffered in the Gwanju Uprising are not just another war story. They take on a much broader and more expansive meaning.

Perhaps to go deeper into Kang’s line of thought would also require the question: What is death? Many people in the novel die, but not all of them physically. Some are tortured in very horrific ways that make their life post-uprising the mere passing of time before death, and peace. For those who are left behindsurvivors, and families of those killedthe ache of not knowing where their friends and family are buried are compounded traumas inflicted by the military government. Even if bodies are found, the question of what is next after this life, provides them with no relief. Should those left behind feel sorrow or relief for those already gone?

This was an extremely emotional read. And even though the year is not yet half-way through, I feel like “Human Acts” could be my most favourite novel this year. Heck, I am including it in my top ten.

If you are concerned about triggers, the novel is definitely violent and details torture, death, rape, loss, grief, and war-like scenarios. However, if you feel confident enough to read the novel, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Have you read Han Kang’s novels? What did you think of them? As always, remember to share the reading love.

4 thoughts on “Where is the body, where is the soul?: A review of Han Kang’s “Human Acts”

    • I think that this one would appeal to a wider audience maybe. I really liked them both, The Vegetarian and Human Acts, but they are very different books content-wise.

  1. She has become one of my new favorites as well. The Vegetarian was so surreal, I would love to have that reading experience again. I will most definitely be picking this up when it hits stores here in the U.S!

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