Saturday 10 December 2022

Book Review: The White Book by Kang Han (Literary Fiction)

Title: The White Book
Author: Kang Han
Publisher: Granta
Publication Date: 2018
Pages: 161
Format: Paperback
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Bought Copy

Writing while on a residency in Warsaw, a city palpably scarred by the violence of the past, the narrator finds herself haunted by the story of her older sister, who died a mere two hours after birth. A fragmented exploration of white things - the swaddling bands that were also her shroud, the breast milk she did not live to drink, the blank page on which the narrator herself attempts to reconstruct the story - unfolds in a powerfully poetic distillation.

As she walks the unfamiliar, snow-streaked streets, lined by buildings formerly obliterated in the Second World War, their identities blur and overlap as the narrator wonders, 'Can I give this life to you?'. The White Book is a book like no other. It is a meditation on a colour, on the tenacity and fragility of the human spirit, and our attempts to graft new life from the ashes of destruction.

This is both the most autobiographical and the most experimental book to date from South Korean master Han Kang.


The White Book was a swift but interesting read. There were some beautiful poetic descriptions within its pages and the book as a whole provided a thoughtful meditation on grief and the fragility of life. However, it felt like a piece very personal to the author, and without having had similar experiences myself, I remained somewhat detached from the work as I read. As such, I would say this is the least accessible of Kang Han's main three works translated into English and is therefore likely not the best place to start if you are new to her writing. I would pick up with Human Acts or The Vegetarian first instead. But I do recommend it to those who have already read one or both of those other works. It gets 4 stars from me.

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