Han Kang’s new novel, of mourning in a destroyed city


The White Book. By Han Kang. Translated by Deborah Smith. Portobello Books; 128 pages; £10. To be published in America by Hogarth in 2019.

A WOMAN wanders through the snowbound streets of a European city that, in the second world war, suffered such wholesale obliteration that “the white glow of stone ruins” stretched “as far as the eye could see”. During this spell of exile, she recalls the sibling she never met: her mother’s first child, who died “less than two hours into life”. The baby girl had “a face as white as a crescent-moon rice cake”.

From these dual dimensions of grief and memory, one personal and one historical, Han Kang, a South Korean writer, has fashioned a winter book made up of beautiful, tantalising fragments. Its snow-crystals of prose settle into an eerily moving sequence of meditations on destruction, bereavement and rebirth. Amid images of ice and ashes, rice and salt, cloud and moon, the “white things” that signify mourning in Korean and…Continue reading

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