Human Acts

Han Kang

Published: 7 January 2016
Trade Paperback, Demy PB
135x216mm, 224 pages
ISBN: 9781846275968

Other Editions


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Published: 3 November 2016
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 224 pages
ISBN: 9781846275975

Ebook Available

Translated by Deborah Smith


Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend's corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma.

Human Acts is a universal book, utterly modern and profoundly timeless. Already a controversial bestseller and award-winning book in Korea, it confirms Han Kang as a writer of immense importance.

About the author

Image of Han Kang

Han Kang was born in Gwangju, South Korea, and moved to Seoul at the age of ten. She studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. Her writing has won the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today's Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. The Vegetarian, her first novel to be translated into English, was published by Portobello Books in 2015 and won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. She is also the author of Human Acts (Portobello, 2016) and The White Book (Portobello, forthcoming 2017). She is based in Seoul. More about the author


‘[About] the extremes of human behaviour, from selfless sacrifice to unbelievable wickedness’ Kate Saunders



Human Acts is a stunning piece of work. The language is poetic, immediate, and brutal. Han Kang has again proved herself to be a deft artist of storytelling and imagery.’ Jess Richards

‘A brave and profoundly affecting book... it is structurally ambitious and highly original in its use of narrative voice and its chronology’ Robert Hawkins

‘A conversation of which we rarely both sides: the living talking to the dead, and the dead speaking back’ Jonathan McAloon

‘A grim but heartfelt performance, touching on the possibility of forgiveness and the survival of the spirit’

‘A rare and astonishing book, sensitively translated by Deborah Smith, Human Acts enrages, impassions and most importantly, gives voices back to who were silenced’ Claire Hazelton

‘A sobering meditation on what it means to be human’ Francesca Wade

‘As subtle and specific as it is universally heartbreaking’ Arifa Akbar

‘By its very existence, Human Acts is an important and necessary book, but without Han Kang's astonishing penmanship, I doubt it would have been so devastating and vital a work of literature’ Lucy Scholes

‘Full of pathos, the novel progresses over thirty-three years, following the guilt-ridden survivors who struggle to achieve normal lives while still facing the threat of torture, censorship and repression. But it is the dead who hold sway in Human Acts, rising up into the narrative with every new bruise or abuse of power... Han's book testifies to a specific atrocity while raising universal questions about what it means to be human, with all the potential for tenderness and cruelty that entails... Writing with great formal control, Han switches easily from empathy and interiority to a more distanced, anthropological contemplation... Among Han's more impressive achievements is her ability to convey disintegration and alienation with such elegance. Her aesthetic strategies [...] suggest a profound humanism rather than any abstract design... In Human Acts [Han] has created a moving testament to fiction's capacity to house even the most luminal and oppressed, to give voice to the voiceless, whether living or dead’ Kate Webb

‘Human Acts is an important novel, moving and heartbreaking in its dignity’ Eileen Battersby

‘In simple, lyrical and visceral prose... Han presents a vivid account of both the power of collective spirit... and the capacity of brutal regimes to crush it to nothing’ Luke Davies

‘Neither inviting nor shying away from modern-day parallels, Han neatly unpacks the social and political catalysts behind the massacre and maps its lengthy, toxic fallout. [It] is remarkable... how she accomplishes this while still making it a novel of blood and bone. Han prepares us for one of the most important questions of our times: "What is humanity? What do we have to do to keep humanity as one thing and not another?" She never answers, but this act of unflinching witness seems as good a place to start as any’ Eimear McBride

‘Reading Human Acts, I sometimes felt as though I were listening to a story someone had been waiting years to tell; at others, that I was eavesdropping on someone's deepest thoughts to which I should not be privy. The act of remembering is never easy for the characters in this work, but it is also something they cannot stop doing. Remembering brings back to life the terror these characters experienced, but also always seem hollow for it will never bring back the dead or undo the violence enacted on them. Yet even when characters actively try to refuse to remember, they find those traces of the past welling up within them. A sense of inevitability lingers throughout Human Acts: it is a story that must be told’ Kalau Almony

‘With exquisitely controlled eloquence, this novel chronicles the tragedy of ordinariness violated’

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