I’m copying and pasting what I wrote on my facebook.
Took a few hours to finish a book called “Human Acts” by Han Kang. It’s been a long time since I finished 80% (or the entire thing) of a book in 1 sitting. Human Acts revolves around the Gwangju Uprising in 1980.
If I were to say I was “engrossed” by the book, it would feel like I am disrespecting the author, and the people in the book. How can you be “engrossed” by death, and torture?
At first, the book isn’t easy to follow. You get thrown into Death. You’re a kid called Dong-Ho. 15 years old, and somehow dealing with dead bodies already.
As I read on, it gradually dawned on me that Dong-Ho was a real victim of the Gwangju Uprising. This name wasn’t magically conjured up by the author. It was someone she had come to know because Dong-Ho stayed in her old house.
The violence, during and after the Uprising, haunts. Am I exactly shocked to read accounts of torture and crimes against humanity? I really don’t know. The author wrote simply, yet vividly enough for readers to visualise the torture made to those civilians who took part in the Uprising; the torture made by those in power.
Maybe it is due to my uni studies, that I’m unfortunately not as shocked as I could have been. I studied some really dark subjects during my Monash days. Since I was majoring in International Studies, and minoring in Political Science, I chose to study on war crimes, terrorism, crimes against humanity, political violence, civil wars, disasters… and so forth.
A few of my course readings still haunt me.
Maybe I’m somewhat desensitized already, which is why I’m saddened by the accounts in Human Acts, but not shocked at the violence.
What struck me the most was how Dong-Ho’s second elder brother said to the author, “Wasn’t it lucky that he was shot so he died straight away, don’t you think that was lucky?”
In a way, the brother is honestly true. Dong-Ho was tragically robbed of his life at 15. Yet he was not tortured like the rest of the people or friends he had come to work with. Those who survived the Uprising, and subsequent torture, have PTSD, and physical permanent damage. One senior that Dong-Ho followed, committed suicide.
I don’t quite know why I feel inclined to review this book, but maybe people should read it. I’m not sure if I’m encouraging people to be emotionally and mentally scarred by reading such accounts honestly.
Or maybe this book just hit home with me, considering what I’ve studied couple of years ago.
People will always be willing to die for their freedom, and to fight against oppression.