The White Book
Han Kang's semi-autobiographical The White Book is a contemplation of life and death. It’s her meditative study of her sibling’s death at a few hours old, and how this event shapes her own history. Taking the colour white as a central component to explore this memory, she makes a list of objects that trigger responses. These include swaddling bands, salt, snow, moon, blank paper and shroud. “With each item I wrote down, a ripple of agitation ran through me. I felt I needed to write this book, and that the process of writing would be transformative, would itself transform, into something like a white ointment applied to a swelling, like a gauze laid over a wound.” Han Kang was in Warsaw - a place which is foreign to her when she undertook this project - and in being in a new place, she recalls with startling clarity the voices and happenings of her home and past. The book is a collection of quiet yet unsettling reflections on exquisitely observed moments. These capsules of text build upon each other, creating a powerful sense of pain, loss and beauty. Each moment so tranquil yet uneasy. Han Kang’s writing is sparse, delicate and nuanced. Describing her process of writing she states, “Each sentence is a leap forwards from the brink of an invisible cliff, where time’s keen edges are constantly renewed. We lift our foot from the solid ground of all our life lived thus far, and take that perilous step out into the empty air.” You can sense the narrator’s exploration and stepping out into the unknown in her descriptions of snow, in her observations as she walks streets hitherto unknown, and in her attempts to realise the view of her mother, a young woman dealing with a premature birth, and the child herself, briefly looking out at the world. Small objects become talismans of memory, a white pebble carries much more meaning than its actuality. Salt and sugar cubes each hold their own value in their crystal structure. “Those crystals had a cool beauty, their white touched with grey.” “Those squares wrapped in white paper possessed an almost unerring perfection.” In 'Salt', she cleverly reveres the substance while at the same time cursing the pain it can cause a fresh wound. The White Book is a book you handle with some reverence - its white cover makes you want to pick it up delicately. A small hardback, the text is interspersed with a handful of moody black and white photographs. This is a book you will read, pick up again to re-read passages, as each deserves concentration for both the writing and ideas.
From the winner of the Man Booker International Prize for The VegetarianBoth the most autobiographical and the most experimental book to date from South Korean master Han Kang. Written while on a writer's residency in Warsaw, a city palpably scarred by the violence of the past, the narrator finds herself haunted by the story of her older sister, who died a mere two hours after birth. A fragmented exploration of white things - the swaddling bands that were also her shroud, the breast milk she did not live to drink, the blank page on which the narrator herself attempts to reconstruct the story - unfold in a powerfully poetic distillation. As she walks the unfamiliar, snow-streaked streets, lined by buildings formerly obliterated in the Second World War, their identities blur and overlap as the narrator wonders, 'Can I give this life to you?'. The White Book is a book like no other. It is a meditation on a colour, on the tenacity and fragility of the human spirit, and our attempts to graft new life from the ashes of destruction.
From the winner of the Man Booker International Prize for The Vegetarian comes a stunning meditation on the colour white; about light, about death and about ritual
Han Kang was born in Gwangju, South Korea, and moved to Seoul at the age of ten. She studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. Her writing has won the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today's Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. The Vegetarian, her first novel to be translated into English, was published by Portobello Books in 2015 and won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. She is also the author of Human Acts (Portobello, 2016) and The White Book (Portobello, 2017). She is based in Seoul.Deborah Smith's translations from the Korean include two novels by Han Kang, The Vegetarian and Human Acts, and two by Bae Suah, A Greater Music and Recitation. In 2015 Deborah completed a PhD at SOAS on contemporary Korean literature and founded Tilted Axis Press. In 2016 she won the Arts Foundation Award for Literary Translation. She tweets as @londonkoreanist.