The White Book is the most recent English release from Korean writer Han Kang and her translator, Deborah Smith. Together, these two women have brought us The Vegetarian which won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016, and Human Acts in 2017, both of which wrapped political and social consciousness into very imaginative and expressive storytelling.
Read my reviews of those other books:
The White Book isn’t nearly as expressive and yet in just over 100 pages of sparsely filled pages, the author again presents social and political commentary within the whispers of a few moments, but this time she calls the reader into the act of storytelling by forcing us to fill in the spaces she creates with her pregnant outlines of white and dark, a chiaroscuro that begs the reader to color over the scenes with our own experiences.
In the book, that is part fiction and part memoir-in verse, the young Korean author is visiting the Polish city of Warsaw and planning out the book that she will write to contain her experiences, yet she places this new life within the context of an unknown past, recalling stories she was told about the children her mother had before she was born, paying homage to the sister that she wish she could have shared memories with, yet acknowledging that if her sister’s journey had continued, Kang’s live would never have been created. So she aches for something that would hinder her ability to ache and in this paradox of blankness that begs to be filled, she describes the whiteness, that is both void and fulfillment.
I loved the lyricism of Kang’s sentences and the way she can spin a story with a barely perceptible thread, but I thought that she could have done more with the outline, could’ve given me more. I wanted more. In the scenario Kang relates of her mother nursing her firstborn, the baby who died within a couple of hours, she writes of the command the fearful mother issues to the newborn, Don’t die. Decade later, Han Kang in turn, winds those words around many other vulnerable parts of life, much the way a baby is swaddled to mimic the comfort the womb provides. Don’t die. Live. It is her refrain for life, echoed in her whitewashing a rusted door to give it new life with a coat of paint, describing an art gallery that lives inside the walls of a hospital where many died during the war. Kang juxtaposes life and death expertly, and these minimalistic pages narrate pain with such rasping quality that I ached for more of it.
The print version of The White Book contains photographs that probably illustrate this philosophy even clearer but I read an Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Netgalley, which did not include pictures so I am hesitant to share my rating but if you have read the completed version, please let me know how your experience compared to mine. For now, I’ll say that I loved the text I read but wanted more from the book.
I received a free electronic download from Netgalley in order to complete this review but this did not influence my opinion of the book.
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