human acts is a personal and political novel by famous Korean author Han Kang. Based on the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, in which the student uprising turned violent in his hometown, the author takes us through the brutal massacres committed by the state against its own people. But the novel differs markedly from other books and films made about the event, in that it does not take readers through the historical events leading up to the massacre. Instead, Kang starts afterward, which by no means signals the end of the violence. The bodies lying in the morgues and the survivors all testify to this cruelty in individual chapters.
If the South Korean film, Taxi driver, or K-drama may youth made you curious about South Korean history and the Gwangju Uprising, this novel is for you. Also by the author: The Vegetarian.
violets by Kyung-Sook Shin, Feminist Press, 2022
Translated from Korean by Anton Hur
Written by the critically acclaimed best-selling author Please take care of mom, violets is the story of a 22-year-old girl named San who lives a lonely life in Seoul and finds a job in a flower shop. The novel begins with a gripping account of his beginnings in the countryside with a mother who regrets her life choices, a grandmother who regrets having San’s mother as a stepdaughter, San’s absent father who has left for greener pastures and his only friend Namae. A single intimate moment with Namae that ended in violent rejection haunts present-day San in 1990s Seoul as she falls in love with a photographer, obsessively copies passages from her favorite book, and finds her place in this flower shop. The novel is a terrific text about urban loneliness, repressed queer desire, and a haunting observation of the changing country at the turn of the century. Originally written in 2001, this soon-to-be-released translation is a tragic yet moving work of fiction by top Korean writers that should be on your spring-summer reading list.