Sometimes simplicity has power. Certainly that is the case with the colour white and Han Kang’s The White Book.
A study in colour and the human condition, Han Kang’s The White Book is an underrated, haunting collection of an amalgamation of forms. It resides somewhere in between poetry, prose, and art. Personal, minimalist, and deeply thought-provoking, I have never read anything like it.
Kang utilizes, transforms, and twists the evocative simplicity of the colour white – the divine purity, yet equally, the nothingness – to explore a series of existential thoughts inspired by grief; the grief of possibility and impossibility; the grief associated with the short life of her older sister, her mother’s first child, who only lived two hours.
This is a beautiful exploration of the human form, the human condition, and what it means to be alive in a world that once belonged to other people, to the generations lost in time.
But, alas, this is difficult to review. So instead, I feature and recommend. I urge. Read this – experience this – feel what Kang feels.
From the winner of the Man Booker International Prize for The Vegetarian
Writing while on a 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 – unfolds 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.
This is both the most autobiographical and the most experimental book to date from South Korean master Han Kang.