A mood piece – delicate, haunting, profound.
Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (brilliantly translated by Deborah Smith) was one of my favourite reads of 2016. Visceral, powerful and confronting. There was never any question that I was going to read The White Book it just took me two months to get to it.
The first thing that strikes you about The White Book, aside from the very stark and… errr… very white cover, is how slim it is. According to my e-reader (Marvin) it’s just over 12,000 words, so doesn’t even reach the lower limit of a novella. Not that this is a criticism, I would rather something short and powerful than another bloated, ponderous ramble through the middle-class youth of a mostly uninspiring white dude. Still, I wasn’t expecting the book to be this succinct.
The White Book is a series of reflections, meditations, observations made by an unnamed narrator – though given the back cover copy I think we can assume it’s Han Kang – while living temporarily in a European city (Poland). Whiteness and white objects act as a catalyst for some haunting images such as the death of her older sister moments after her sister was born. Or this powerful, sad tale about an elderly Jewish man who watches his six-year-old brother perish in the Warsaw ghetto:
The prose is so delicate and beautiful and evocative…
… and it’s also a book of simple, profound observations:
The Gist Of It
The White Book is a mood piece, small but certainly not insubstantial. The fragmentary style of the narrative means that you never get into a rhythm, you’re constantly shifting from one source or object of whiteness to another, all associated with death and mourning and renewal. This means that The White Book is not a quick read despite being so slim, it’s a book that requires attention, an appreciation of Kang’s gorgeous language, a willingness to forgo plot for something that’s sensitive, compassionate and profound. Kudos to Deborah Smith for again capturing the beauty of Han Kang’s prose.