In the Beginning of Beginnings: Greek Lessons by Han Kang

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.15 Spring 2012
  • byCho Kang-sok
Greek Lessons

Han Kang's latest book stands out from her previous works. Although her literary talent started to shine in the mid-1990s, her work was far removed from the novels of other writers her age, characterized by their wit, humor, rambling style, trivialism, and personal accounts of the culture of the younger generation. Han has always penetrated into the backwaters of life and faced human relationships and wounds head-on. Someone once likened the author Yom Sang-Soep's works to “an ache in the body.” If people were asked to pick a writer producing that kind of work today, Han would probably be at the top of the list.

In Greek Lessons, however, the tone of her writing has undergone a slight shift. Although it is the story of a man losing his sight and a woman losing her voice, it ultimately moves toward the light, toward communication. What are sight and speech? In the words of a certain Western philosopher, sight has long been regarded as the noblest of the senses, while speech has been the primary means of human communication, as suggested by the countless obsessions with logos through the ages.

The loss of sight and speech, which would otherwise have been fatal to each of the characters suffering either loss, ends up serving as a medium for another world of communication in this novel because their injuries are connected together. As implied by the Greek concept of the middle voice, objects cannot exist as wholly separate entities. If examined more closely, even wounds and injuries are connected to countless possibilities in the world. Among these possibilities, the man and woman in Greek Lessons discover the most urgent one. Though this might be their first as well as last encounter, it is the beginning of the movement from darkness to light, from silence to breath. The novel's ending will make readers think about why in the beginning, before light and speech existed, only darkness and silence reigned. That's the way it had to be the beginning of beginnings. 

Author's Profile

Han Kang has received the Man Booker International Prize 2016, the Yi Sang Literary Award, Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Manhae Literature Prize. English translations of her books include The Vegetarian (Portobello, 2015), Human Acts (Portobello, 2016), and The White Book (Portobello, 2018).