Book Review: Human Acts by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

Book: Human Acts by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

Published January 2017 by Hogarth Press|218 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Literary Fiction

From the internationally bestselling author of The Vegetarian, a rare and astonishing (The Observer) portrait of political unrest and the universal struggle for justice.

In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.

I first heard about Human Acts from my friend Mollie, and since I liked The Vegetarian, I figured I’d pick up this book.

I’m actually going to do something a little different for this novel: each chapter is told from a different perspective, so I’m doing a chapter-by-chapter review, and then I’ll sum up my feelings about the book.

The Intro By The Translator:

I really liked the intro, since it talked about the real life event that inspired the book.  I especially liked that the author had a personal connection to the event we see in the book, and it made me feeling the author had a personal investment in seeing the story told.

Chapter One, The Boy, 1980:

This chapter is told in second person, and that’s really different, since novels are usually told in first person or third person.  I have such mixed feelings about it: I felt like we were really, truly seeing things first hand, and you really experience the horror of what happened.  At the same time, it was really off-putting, and I was really close to putting it down and not finishing it at all because of it.  You’re there, experiencing everything the boy is experiencing, but at the same time, I felt so distant and disconnected from everything.  I think, in a way, it made me feel like I was being told what happened, even though you’re experiencing everything as though it’s happening to you.  It is a strong start to the book, and I cannot say enough that this chapter, as horrifying and off-putting as it was, makes me want to learn more about what really happened.

Chapter Two, The Boy’s Friend, 1980:

I was really confused reading this chapter at first, because I didn’t realize it was a different narrator.  It took a couple of reads to realize it was a different person narrating.  This chapter is told in first person, and it felt very personal. It’s just as horrifying as the first chapter, but in a very different way.  It’s also a very powerful chapter, because you really see how it rippled out to so many different people.  And through the boy’s friend, you really see a different side of it.

Chapter Three, The Editor, 1985:

I had a lot of trouble understanding why we were seeing things from the editor’s point of view.  Third person was interesting, and it somehow made the chapter feel neutral.  It didn’t have the same horror that the first two chapters did, and it didn’t have the same effect those chapters did.  Looking back, this chapter was the beginning of me starting to lose a lot of interesting in the book, and how much this event changed things. Thinking about it now, I suppose the editor’s chapter is supposed to show how things are very much censored? And the point of forgetting the slaps…I’m not sure what the point of it is.  I am so fuzzy about what it had to do with the student uprising, because it seemed like it was the least connected to it.

Chapter Four, The Prisoner, 1990:

At first, I was curious about why he was in prison, because it wasn’t clear to me.  At least at first.  It did offer a different perspective on the student uprising, and what happened after.  Especially for those who lived through the uprising.  It really stayed with him, and you really see how it haunts him.  It’s not one of my favorite chapters, but it’s up there with the first two chapters.

Chapter 5, The Factory Girl, 2002:

So, we’re back to 2nd person for this chapter.  It felt very distant in the way the first chapter did.  Partially because we’re so far removed from the original uprising, but also because of how this chapter is told.  I was pretty bored reading this chapter, and it jumped around a lot in terms of time.  It really muddled her story, and even though, like the previous chapter, was a different perspective on what happened, I just didn’t care.

Chapter 6, The Boy’s Mother, 2010: 

This chapter felt very personal, like the chapters we saw with the first two chapters.  And since it focuses on the boy’s mom, it felt even more personal.  I liked seeing how little she knows of some of the people she knows, and also how she dealt with the loss of her son.  It really brought it back to the horror of the student uprising.  It was hard chapter to get through- at this point, I lost a lot of the interesting I had at the beginning, and I just wanted to get through it.

Epilogue, The Writer, 2013:

I don’t have a lot to say about this chapter.  You really see the effect the student uprising had decades later, and on so many different people.  By this point, you were so far removed from it, and yet, it still lingers haunts people.

Overall Thoughts:

I thought the chapters were really uneven.  It started off so strong and horrifying, and the passage of time, as well as some of the narrators, lessened it for me.  The chapters told in 2nd person were the hardest to get through, and I didn’t like the choose-your-own-adventure feel they had.  I definitely lost interest the further you got from the uprising, and I definitely didn’t like it as much as the The Vegetarian.

2 stars.  I had to read each chapter 2 or 3 times to get a sense of what was going on, and I could only handle a chapter at a time.

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What I’ve Been Reading: Part One!

I’m back…sort of!  I know it’s been a while since I’ve done a blog post, and I’m trying to get back into reviewing and blogging again.  I’ve been reading, but not up to reviewing.  But I still wanted to talk about the books I’ve been reading, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about the books I haven’t talked about yet.  I’m a bit fuzzy on some of them, since it’s been a while…but that’s not going to stop me from talking about them!

Book #1: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

Here’s what I thought:

  • It’s a middle grade contemporary about a kid who runs track, which I thought was cool.  I feel like track doesn’t come up a lot, as far as sports novels go.  Cross country, yes.  Track, not so much.
  • I don’t know that I remember enough to say anything else, but I remember thinking it was okay.  Then again, All-American Boys was such a great book that I had really high expectations.
  • I did like the parallels between running and what was going on in his life.  Especially with how running turned out to be a really good thing for him.
  • I don’t know that I’d read the rest of the books in the series- it looks like this is the first one of…I’m not sure how many.
  • It’s definitely a must read if you like stories about sports.  And also how to move on and deal with your past.
  • I think my rating would be 2 stars.  It’s okay, and not a lot stuck with me.

Book #2: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

My thoughts:

  • I really liked this book!  It’s a YA contemporary about Amanda, who transferred schools.  I felt for Amanda, who tried so hard to fit in, and who had to deal with a lot- bullying and transphobia are the first things that come to mind.
  • I really like that it’s not a coming out story- both are important, but I really liked seeing Amanda move to a new town and transition to a new phase in her life.
  • I liked the friendships she had too- people can be horrible, but I’m glad Amanda found some amazing people.
  • I can’t remember anything about the romance, other than I liked it…but that’s about it!
  • I loved the author’s note at the end of the book.  Don’t skip over it, because it really does add to an already awesome book.
  • I feel like I’m not doing this book any justice.  At all.  Mostly because it’s been a while since I’ve read it, and I remember next to nothing.  But it’s such a great book and really important and I doubt I’d do it much justice regardless.  But waiting months to do some sort of half-hearted attempt isn’t helping.
  • Part of why it’s important is because of what the book is about, but it is worth mentioning that the author is also trans.
  • And I’m not sure if it’s true, but the cover model is trans as well.  For some reason, that feels really important as well.
  • I know I got really emotional and starting crying at one point.
  • My Rating: 4 stars.  Had I reviewed it right after finishing it, my rating probably would have been 5 stars.
    • But I may re-read it at some point so I can properly talk about it.
    • I still really liked it though.

Book #3: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This is another hardcover from the library.

What I Thought:

  • I liked seeing how much Strayed changed during the hike.
  • She did seem ill-prepared for the hike, and I can see why some reviewers think she’s whiny and self-absorbed
    • and also why some people thought she made poor life decisions
    • There’s no judgement from me, though, because she did have a lot of things she had to work through, especially with the death of her mother
  • Hiking- especially since she was by herself for most of the hike- seemed to help her
    • there was a lot of opportunity for her to reflect on her life
    • she did randomly meet up with other people along the way, though
  • I think my favorite part was seeing her not give up, even when it would have been easy for her to do so
  • I can’t imagine doing such a big hike, especially with no hiking/backpacking experience whatsoever
  • It really felt like I was hiking with her, and it never felt boring or repetitive
    • I can’t imagine being alone with my thoughts for that long, but props to her for sticking with it
  • It’s a memoir of her experience hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, so if you’re looking for more information or history about the trail itself, this is not the book for you
  • I’ve heard of it before- because it was adapted into a movie, but I mostly picked it up because it was mentioned in one of the Gilmore Girls revival episodes
    • I’m glad I picked it up, though, because I really liked it
  • I think my rating would be 4 stars.  I didn’t love it, but it was an easy read, and there is something about the way she writes

Book #4: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad is a hardcover from the library.

And now, my thoughts:

  • This book deserves a lot more attention.  I feel like it didn’t get a lot of attention, despite the fact that it was an Oprah book club pick.  The publication date also got moved up because of it.  And I know it was recommended by Obama, so I had really high expectations.
    • It lived up to all of the hype…at least the hype that I heard.
    • It’s totally worth reading
  • I admit that I didn’t like it at first, and it took me a while to get into it.
    • I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because I really liked it
  • It is a hard read, because you see what it might have been like for slaves on the Underground Railroad
    • I’m not sure what to call them, but there are ads and wanted posters for runaway slaves, which really added to the journey Cora takes
  • The Underground Railroad is quite literal in this book but it was terrifying to see what it was like during that time period
    • so many people risked everything to be a part of it- whether they were a stop along the way, or the one trying to escape slavery
    • I know I said it already, but it really highlighted what it might have been like
  • It really is mind-blowing that people were willing to take a chance to have freedom than spend one more second as a slave
  • My rating: 4 stars.  It was hard to get into at first, but worth reading.

Book Review: The Flame Never Dies And Behold The Dreamers

the-flame-never-dies-coverBook #1: The Flame Never Dies By Rachel Vincent

Published August 2016 by Random House Children’s Books|241 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: Well Of Souls #2

Genre: YA Dystopia/Paranormal/Post-Apocalyptic

What It’s About: For fans of Cassandra Clare and Richelle Mead comes the unputdownable sequel to The Stars Never Rise, a book Rachel Caine, author of the bestselling Morganville Vampires series, called “haunting, unsettling, and eerily beautiful.”

ONE SPARK WILL RISE. Nina Kane was born to be an exorcist. And since uncovering the horrifying truth—that the war against demons is far from over—seventeen-year-old Nina and her pregnant younger sister, Mellie, have been on the run, incinerating the remains of the demon horde as they go.

In the badlands, Nina, Mellie, and Finn, the fugitive and rogue exorcist who saved her life, find allies in a group of freedom fighters. They also face a new threat: Pandemonia, a city full of demons. But this fresh new hell is the least of Nina’s worries. The well of souls ran dry more than a century ago, drained by the demons secretly living among humans, and without a donor soul, Mellie’s child will die within hours of its birth.

Nina isn’t about to let that happen . . . even if it means she has to make the ultimate sacrifice.

What I Thought: I liked it, but not as much as I thought I would.  I think a lot of it is that things were resolved pretty well in the first book, and it did work well as a stand-alone.  I don’t regret reading it, because The Flame Never Dies answers some questions and resolves some loose threads that came up in The Stars Never Rise.  But at the same time, it worked so well as a stand-alone that while I liked it, I’m also sort of meh about it.  What I think surprised me with this book is that, like the first book, things are resolved, with some loose threads and unanswered questions. From what I can tell, there will be only two books, so at least the overall story is resolved.  But things are open enough that there really could be another book in the series to answer those questions.

I was kept on the edge of my seat, though, and there were several times where you’re reading it, knowing that something is about to happen, and you’re just waiting for it to actually happen.  There weren’t a lot of surprises, but there were a few, and she does have a way of making you WANT to keep going.  There is part of me that wants more, but at the same time, I feel like, with this series, Vincent knew her stopping point and where things were headed.  It is nice knowing that the idea won’t get old because it’s being spread out over all of these books, and it easily could have gone that way.  But it didn’t, and I really appreciate that.

My Rating: 3 stars.  It’s enjoyable and fun, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first book.

behold-the-dreamer-coverBook #2: Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Published August 2016 by Random House|380 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction/Adult Literary Fiction

What It’s About: Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

What I Thought: I ended up really liking it! Behold The Dreamers was a really good look at what it’s like to be in immigrant in the U.S. Things like the Great Recession and the collapse of Lehman Brothers really does have an effect on EVERYONE, and that was something I never thought about before. They came here for a better life, and they ended up not being able to stay, for a lot of different reasons- the biggest reason being their lawyer. Their lawyer didn’t seem all that great, or interested in truly helping them. I can easily picture families or people like the Jongas hiring a lawyer who seems more interested in the money they’re getting than actually helping their clients.

I felt for them, and how hard they both worked to have a better life for them and their children, only to have it change so much. They do end up going back to Cameroon, and it seems like they’re set financially over there, but they tried so hard to stay here. I felt like Behold The Dreamers showcased how desperate people are to come here and stay here, and how they will do anything to have a life here.

I definitely thought Jende and Neni were a lot more sympathetic than Jende’s employers.  I get they were affected by it to, but it was hard to sympathize with a family who seemed to be more interested in maintaining their lifestyle than actually trying to work on themselves.  They do seem to have their issues, but they were far more unlikable. The Edwards family were much meant to contrast the Jonga family, and you see how different things are for the privileged and those who come here, hopeful and wanting a better life.  Perhaps that is what Mbue was going for, and I did feel for all of the characters, even when it was hard to care about them and like them.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I really liked seeing Jende and Neni come to the U.S., full of hope and optimism, only to have their dreams dashed.  It’s such a great read, and I really recommend it!