Publisher: Portobello Books
A short collection of writings about the colour white, The White Book is a blend of genres that evokes a deep emotional response in its reader. Han Kang writes simultaneously with delicacy and with power, leaving no feeling untouched. Without knowing exactly what I was going to be getting when I chose to start reading, I was surprised and impressed by the beautiful language I found within. The way she manages to explore one topic without it becoming stale highlights her dexterity with words.
Touching upon themes such as life, death and grief, the book will be sure to illicit different feelings from each individual who reads it and it gives the reader space to acknowledge and feel these emotions freely. Han Kang seems to say we are all the same but we are all different in that we are universally affected by grief but we each experience it in a unique way.
Some people have trouble with the experimental style of The White Book, but I find it intriguing and appropriate as grief itself is not always linear in structure. I find the metaphors provide a magical, almost ethereal air to the topics the author is discussing and allow her to discuss them freely. The words inside are not the only interesting part – the overall design of the book only adds to the air of mystery. It is white on the outside, with large white gaps surrounding each piece of prose on the inside. This matching of the outside with the inside, in my opinion, provides a feeling that grief is all encompassing.
Some of my favourite passages in the book are ‘Fog’, ‘The direction of the light’, ‘Breath-cloud’, ‘Small white pills’ and ‘Sugar cubes’ as these are the ones that provoked the most unexpected emotional responses in me – some even made me cry. The ability to force these types of emotions in me is unusual and one of many reasons I have chosen to rate this the full five stars despite it being a piece of literature that cannot be rated easily. Now I have had a taste of Han Kang’s writing style and Deborah Smith’s translation, I am eager for more and will be putting their other two collaborations, The Vegetarian and Human Acts, on my to read list.
Despite not necessarily being for everyone, I commend Han Kang’s creativity and I urge people to at least give it a try in an attempt to find something within it that resonates with them as it has with me.