Troubled Lives Find Respite in Art: Pars, le vent se lève by Han Kang

  • onJuly 16, 2015
  • Vol.28 Summer 2015
  • byHan Kang
Pars, le vent se lève
Tr. Lee Tae-yeon and Genevieve Roux-Faucard

Seo In-ju, an artist, dies under uncertain circumstances. Jeong-hee, her best friend, does not believe in the theory that her death was a suicide and decides to lift the curtain on the mystery surrounding her friend’s disappearance. Her investigation leads her to discover the Seoul art scene from the inside. This is the basis of Pars, le vent se lève, the first translation of a Han Kang novel into French. While the novel seems, at first glance, to share similarities with the conventions of the detective novel, Han writes with a unique voice that, unlike other, more typical examples of the genre, never attempts to lose readers through the use of unclear signs that would hide the trajectory of the story by misdirecting the reader’s attention. From the setting of the art world to her poetic descriptions of nature and space, every element of her novel evidences that her characters are vividly and deeply living their feelings. The plot rapidly slows down as the truth that is sought devolves to the inner world of the characters. From Jeong-hee’s point of view, the investigation of the truth about In-ju’s life and disappearance gradually turns into the search for truth within oneself. Facing the impossibility of understanding her friend’s death in order to find the real meaning of her life, Jeong-hee suffers from her own past and from the weight of time.

Once a promising athlete, In-ju experienced a dramatic life change when she sustained a severe injury that put an end to her ambitions and dreams of making a career in elite athletics. She transforms from being a highly dynamic, energetic person, to being cloistered at home, all alone. Lethargy sets in, reinforced by the loss of her uncle, who had raised her after her mother left. Yet slowness, inertia, and melancholy eventually give way back to happiness and love of life. Inexorably, In-ju continues to go on, as if her wish for leaving behind her painful past means that her desire to avoid tragedy in the future might almost have come too late.

In-ju’s uncle, a former student in the physical sciences, had to stop his studies because of his frail health. Confined to his house, he takes up painting and cares for his niece. Leafing through his drawings, questions emerge for In-ju (and for the reader) about the creation of the universe and the meaning of life. But the uncle’s physical models highlight various paradoxes and ambiguities that express the failure of applying mathematical notions to the real world.

Author Han made the choice to write several passages in italics describing the wind. This conveys the sense that the characters are being moved by an external and invisible force as they begin to understand the meaning of the void that inhabits their lives. Thus, it is not that surprising to see them trying to hold on to the shreds of the past—the only moments that can be lived forever—so that they can stop, or at least, slow down a race they do not even know how to win. Such troubled lives can only find respite in art, since the outlook of the artist as well as that of the viewer, both altruistic, can ease the pain caused by the search for the real meaning of the self, and for the real meaning of the other. 


by Julien Paolucci
Editor-in-Chief, Keulmadang


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).