TODAY -

My intimacy with Han Kang's The White Book

Susma Sharma Gurumayum *

 Book Cover of 'The White Book'
Book Cover of 'The White Book'



The White Book is so white, the black letters shine through. It makes you want to wash your hands before reading it. Touching it with unclean hands would soil it, which would be disrespect to its whiteness.

Its pages are so white, the rare blue underlines and markings shine like (un)chemical(ed) indigo. Rare because cluttering the white pages with blue marks which are not absolutely necessary would be criminal. This is The White Book, let’s keep it as white as possible.

Translated from Korean, this is Han Kang’s third translated book in English, this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International, 2016. This work is almost a prayer on the colour white. The pristiness of the colour white, its honesty, its fragileness is shown by the author’s heart touching words.

Every line is a meditation, and makes you look inwards. Every paragraph seems pure, unadulterated, like it came from the soul, as oppose to things superficial. Every line makes so much sense, it is so well thought of, so deep, so human.

This contemplation on the colour ‘White’ is about the life of her new born sister, who did not live beyond a day. It is about how her few hours of life, and death, impacted the author. She reflects on the basic perception of life like how “Physical pain always sharpens awareness.” Poetic, introspective and meditative, this autobiographical musing of the author is powerful.

This novel comes from the author of The Vegetarian, the book which won the Man Booker Prize International in 2016. I loved The Vegetarian by Han Kang, it was like nothing I had read before, and nothing I have read after. The White Book is very different from its predecessor. The former was remarkably bizarre in its storytelling, this one is poetry.

Han Kang's simplistic, basic and very real writing is perhaps where the charm of the book lie. The author's power of vivid observation comes out alive through her words. One can see the same in one of my favourite lines from the book. - "The womb would have been a snug fit, so the nurses binds the body tight, to mitigate the shock of its abrupt projection into limitlessness."

I can only thank Deborah Smith for bringing it out in a language I can read in. The British translator translated the previous two books by Han Kang, The Vegetarian and Human Acts. She founded Tilted Axis in 2015, which is a non-profit Press which focuses on translation.

"... I will breathe in the final breath you released." is how the novel ends. How does one get over such words? It lingers on…

White is flawless, it is pure; it can be easily made un-white. It is frail, always at risk. White in this book, is the colour of melancholia, of grief, of silence, of thought, of getting over loss, of healing; of death, which doesn't end; and of life, which continues.


* Susma Sharma Gurumayum wrote this article for e-pao.net
Susma Sharma Gurumayum is the Sub-Deputy Collector of Kangpokpi district.
She writes book review articles for Blue Bannerman Reviews, and can be contacted at susma(DOT)sharma(DOT)gurumayum(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on December 02, 2018.



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