My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is set around the real-life Gwangju student uprising against South Korea's martial law, which occurred on 18 May 1980; the military retaliated by shooting many of the students dead, and so the narrative deals with the aftermath and how it affected the friends and family of those who were killed.
Rather than having a continuous storyline, I noticed that this book focused on different people with each chapter, all of whom were connected with one of the real-life victims, Dong-ho. So, the first chapter was about a friend, who was searching for his body among the dead, and a later chapter was from the point of view of Dong-ho's mother.
I noticed also that the narrative style changed a lot, so some was said in the third person, and others were said in the first person, and even the second person. For example, the first chapter seemed to be narrated by Dong-ho, addressing his friend, and describing all of what the friend was doing and seeing, which gave me the sense that I was experiencing the aftermath of the tragedy first hand. The book also starts off in the 1980s, but gradually moves forward in time, ending up in the 2010s, not long before the book was originally published (in 2016). The title was quite appropriate too, as it sets out the book's intention, of showing what terrible things that humans are capable of; in this case, it is not just the shooting of innocent people, but some of the demeaning torture methods that are described in the later chapters.
I've read that Han Kang is quite a controversial writer, and certainly some of this book seemed quite provocative with its critique of South Korea's martial law that resulted in the incidents referred to in the book, and it made me feel that I should read up more about these events. I liked the fact that the epilogue was entirely about the incidents from Han Kang's point of view (she was eight at the time of the uprising).
This was an unconventional book, and felt difficult at times, but it is very worth reading, and very eye-opening at the same time.
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