The White Book by Han Kang
Published: 2017 by Portobello Books
Genre(s): Fiction, Semi-Autobiographical, Asian Literature
Never have I felt such great existential crisis while reading a book than I did with The White Book by Han Kang.
This book is a fragmented exploration of white things that is filled with symbolism and metaphors, providing several layers of meanings that makes it all the more poignant and beautiful. At the beginning, the aforementioned fragmented exploration is a part of the narrator’s rituals of mourning and remembering her older sister who died two hours after being born. This creates a path for the provocation of thoughts and questions about life and death, suffering and living. About how life (and time itself) can be fleeting and how humans live, trying to attach meaning to it, but what about a baby who dies after barely living? What is the meaning of it’s life, not in the perspective of others but of its own, then? And from there, what is the meaning of the narrator’s life? What is the point of moving forward because with every breath, it’s already disappearing, “mutely” (p.121).
Fortunately (for me, ’cause really, any more and I’ll break down into tears), this book brightens a little near the end. The narrator finds strength and begins to see her life (and her deceased sister’s life) in a different light. Sees that there can be a hopeful in-between of a beginning and an end. That all ends, even the most tragic ones, can have seeds of happiness and hope in them for another beginning to sprout from.
“Don’t die. Live” (p.159).