- Levende og døde (Human Acts)
Tr. Vivian Evelina Øverås 2017245pp.
Visiting another country always makes me interested, aware, and alert to the history and culture of that country. My eyes open up; I sense news from the country with a deeper interest; I suddenly see myself placed in another spot on planet earth, blending in with a people I often know much too little about—and I become aware of that lack of knowledge.
When I first visited South Korea to attend the Seoul International Book Fair in 2016, it did not take me long to notice an author who was seemingly everywhere: Han Kang. She was recently awarded the Man Booker International Prize, and posters of The Vegetarian made me curious about her. To my great satisfaction, back in Norway, I found that two of her books were about to be translated into Norwegian. The first book, Human Acts, also seemed to offer more insight into, and history about, the country I had just visited, which I wanted to know more about. While reading the book, I learned about a massacre that had taken place in the city of Gwangju in 1980. I was twelve years old at the time.
Human Acts starts off in a language so poetic and beautiful—in tremendous contradiction with the brutality it describes—with the voice of a young boy. Fourteen-year-old Dong-ho is looking for his best friend after the brutal massacre. If he finds his friend, will that friend be alive or dead? Immediately, we are there, right in the middle of what has happened. Dong-ho, unable to locate his friend, is recruited as a volunteer to sort the dead bodies after the massacre. Spread out in a gym are eighty-three corpses, some identifiable, others not. Dong-ho does the task of registering distinguishing marks and characteristics of the bodies. Will this help the families trying to find the mortal remains of their loved ones? What was the background for the massacre, and what makes people so cruel, so cynical, so stubborn and convinced of their right to take another’s life?