GREEK LESSONS by Han Kang
Translated by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won
Leaving aside that article, and the possibility that she has the translation world’s equivalent of Gordon Lish rendering her books into English, there’s no doubt Han Kang has become a literary phenomenon. Since first reading The Vegetarian, I’ve admired her ability to convey both beauty and horror in original and disarming ways. Nowhere was this more on show than in the absolute suckerpunch that is Human Acts. Safe to say I’m a fan. Which is why I can’t help but be disappointed with Greek Lessons.
This is a book about language or, rather, its absence . How can words fill an emotional abyss? In telling the story of a woman torn from her child by a bitter custody battle, and her attempts to regain her voice through the man who teaches her greek - himself adrift and losing his eyesight - Kang explores the limitations of language in forging human connections. It’s all very poetic and esoteric. Beautiful even. But to what end? Whereas her previous novels have had narrative anchors, this felt rudderless - ethereal for its own sake. Voices and perspectives shift. Words pour out like a rising tide. With nothing to grasp, we drown.
Greek Lessons by Han Kang (Tr. Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won)