BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The White Book by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith [in Library Journal]

White, not black, is the color of mourning in Han Kang’s home country of South Korea, as well as other parts of Asia. This latest from Han, whose The Vegetarian was the 2016 Man Booker International Prize winner, is a meditative exploration of the limitless meanings of white – from blankness, erasure, and death to newness, purity, and possibility. Han further condenses her signature brevity, eschewing narrative prose for lists, verses, even fragments.

The sparse story that emerges is a writer’s journey to an unnamed city (geographical hints include Nazis, destruction, resistance, and rebirth), where she recalls and reimagines an older sister she never knew, her mother’s premature first child, who died within hours of birth. Using white objects as connecting leitmotifs, she shifts between time and place, between documenting city explorations and remembering her childhood into adulthood (because she lived). Never far away is her lost sister, her primary companion, whom she exhorts, “Don’t die. Live”—at least on the page—even as she realizes that her sister’s survival would have erased her own existence.

With eloquence and grace, Han breathes life into loss and fills the emptiness with this new work, a Man Booker International short-lister fluidly Anglophoned by Han’s three-time collaborator Deborah Smith.

Review: “Fiction,” Library Journal, Winter 2019

Readers: Adult

Published: 2016 (Korea), 2019 (United States)


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