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Title:
The white book
ISBN:
9780525573067
Edition:
First U.S. edition.
Physical Description:
157 pages ; 21 cm
Summary:
Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize From Booker Prize-winner and literary phenomenon Han Kang, a lyrical and disquieting exploration of personal grief, written through the prism of the color white While on a writer's residency, a nameless narrator wanders the twin white worlds of the blank page and snowy Warsaw. THE WHITE BOOK becomes a meditation on the color white, as well as a fictional journey inspired by an older sister who died in her mother's arms, a few hours old. The narrator grapples with the tragedy that has haunted her family, an event she colors in stark white--breast milk, swaddling bands, the baby's rice cake-colored skin--and, from here, visits all that glows in her memory: from a white dog to sugar cubes. As the writer reckons with the enormity of her sister's death, Han Kang's trademark frank and chilling prose is softened by retrospection, introspection, and a deep sense of resilience and love. THE WHITE BOOK--ultimately a letter from Kang to her sister--offers powerful philosophy and personal psychology on the tenacity and fragility of the human spirit, and our attempts to graft new life from the ashes of destruction.
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Summary

Summary

Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize

From Booker Prize-winner and literary phenomenon Han Kang, a lyrical and disquieting exploration of personal grief, written through the prism of the color white

While on a writer's residency, a nameless narrator wanders the twin white worlds of the blank page and snowy Warsaw. THE WHITE BOOK becomes a meditation on the color white, as well as a fictional journey inspired by an older sister who died in her mother's arms, a few hours old. The narrator grapples with the tragedy that has haunted her family, an event she colors in stark white--breast milk, swaddling bands, the baby's rice cake-colored skin--and, from here, visits all that glows in her memory: from a white dog to sugar cubes.

As the writer reckons with the enormity of her sister's death, Han Kang's trademark frank and chilling prose is softened by retrospection, introspection, and a deep sense of resilience and love. THE WHITE BOOK--ultimately a letter from Kang to her sister--offers powerful philosophy and personal psychology on the tenacity and fragility of the human spirit, and our attempts to graft new life from the ashes of destruction.


Author Notes

Han Kang was born on November 27, 1970 in Gwangju, South Korea. She studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. She teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts. She is an author. Her novels in English include The Vegetarian and Convalescence. Her works published in Korea include A Convict's Love, Mongolian Mark, Fruits of My Woman, The Black Deer, Your Cold Hand, Breath Fighting, and Greek Lessons. She has received several awards including the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today's Young Artist Award, the Korean Literature Novel Award, and the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for The Vegetarian.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Far from a traditional novel in its presentation, the engrossing latest from Man Booker International winner Han (The Vegetarian) fills spare pages with sometimes poetic meditations on the possibilities of a life unlived. After traveling to Warsaw from South Korea and renting an apartment, Han's unnamed narrator remembers the story of her parents' first child, a girl who died shortly after birth. The narrator investigates her own grief regarding this child to conjure a possible alternate timeline wherein the baby lived. The narrator looks through the eyes of this new person, wandering the foreign city, observing the snowy season developing around her, and using objects like "Sleet," "Salt," and "Sugar cubes" as titles to anchor each section. The narrator crafts an entire life for this lost sister before turning her considerations inward, asking if she would have been conceived if the child had survived. Han breaks her narrative into three parts, "I," "She," and "All Whiteness," and throughout writes with attention to the whiteness of the page. The second section, in particular, is wintery in presentation, with small blocks of black text floating atop swaths of blankness. Though thin on conventional narrative, the novel resonates as a prayer for the departed, and only gains power upon rereading. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, the latest from South Korean author Kang (Human Acts, 2017) is a grieving woman's rumination on things that are white, in titled fragments. The unnamed narrator moves to a different country for the winter and mourns the girl her mother gave birth to before her, an infant that died only a few hours after birth. In White City, she passes through a town that had been obliterated by Nazis for attempting to fight back. In Ashes, she meditates on the mysterious calm of death and the struggle of life, the highs and lows only the living experience. In Salt, she realizes that in life, one has the power to heal, preserve, and endure. And in Your Eyes, the narrator contemplates how her sister's death allowed her to live if the infant had survived, she would have never been born. Through these beautifully crafted snapshots, Kang uses language to attempt to transcend the different stages of grief and pain. She explores the dichotomies of black and white, life and death, and the pristine and tragic symbolism that runs between them. Kang's masterful voice is captivating and nothing short of brilliant.--Emily Park Copyright 2018 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

MAMA'S LAST HUG: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves, by Frans de Waal. (Norton, $27.95.) De Waal argues that we make a grave mistake when we pretend that only humans think, feel and know, and cites neurochemical studies to conclude that feelings like love, anger and joy are widespread throughout the animal kingdom. THE WHITE BOOK, by Han Kang. Translated by Deborah Smith. (Hogarth, $20.) In this latest novel from the author of "The Vegetarian," a Korean writer wanders the city of Warsaw, haunted by her family's losses - and by her country's inability to mourn its own. THE BORDER, by Don Winslow. (Morrow/HarperCollins, $28.99.) The final volume of Winslow's monumental trilogy about the Mexican drug cartels and the American dealers, fixers and addicts who keep the trade flourishing. Whether good, bad or altogether hopeless, his characters are full of life and hard to forget. THE SOURCE OF SELF-REGARD: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations, by Toni Morrison. (Knopf, $28.95.) Spanning four decades of Morrison's illustrious career, this collection includes a stirring eulogy to James Baldwin, a prayer for the victims of 9/11 and insights into "Beloved" and her other novels. DEATH IS HARD WORK, by Khaled Khalifa. Translated by Leri Price. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) Khalifa's fifth novel about siblings reunited by their father's death during Syria's current war, wrestles with themes of societal demise and rejuvenation on a tableau every bit as haunted by violence as the swamps and redclay roads of Faulkner's South. SAY NOTHING: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, by Patrick Radden Keefe. (Doubleday, $28.95.) Part history, part true crime, Keefe's book uses the abduction and murder of a Belfast mother to illuminate the bitter conflict known as the Troubles. THE HEAVENS, by Sandra Newman. (Grove, $26.) This novel, which explores notions of time travel, romance and mental stability, features a heroine who comes to believe she lives simultaneously in Elizabethan England and 21st-century New York, with events in one period affecting life in the other. EMPIRES OF THE WEAK: The Real Story of European Expansion and the Creation of the New World Order, by J. C. Sharman. (Princeton, $27.95.) Taking in 1,000 years of history, Sharman makes the provocative case that European supremacy is a mere blip in mankind's narrative, which is in fact dominated by Asia. ON THE COME UP, by Angie Thomas. (Balzer + Bray, $18.99; ages 12 and up.) Set in the same neighborhood as "The Hate U Give," Thomas's riveting follow-up introduces an aspiring rapper. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web: nytimes.com/books


Library Journal Review

White, not black, is the color of mourning in Han's home country of South Korea, as well as other parts of Asia. This latest from Han, whose The Vegetarian was the 2016 Man Booker International Prize winner, is a meditative exploration of the limitless meanings of white-from blankness, erasure, and death to newness, purity, and possibility. Han further condenses her signature brevity, eschewing narrative prose for lists, verses, even fragments. The sparse story that emerges is a writer's journey to an unnamed city (geographical hints include Nazis, destruction, resistance, and rebirth), where she recalls and reimagines an older sister she never knew, her mother's premature first child, who died within hours of birth. Using white objects as connecting leitmotifs, she shifts between time and place, between documenting city explorations and remembering her childhood into adulthood (because she lived). Never far away is her lost sister, her primary companion, whom she exhorts, "Don't die. Live"-at least on the page-even as she realizes that her sister's survival would have erased her own existence. VERDICT With eloquence and grace, Han breathes life into loss and fills the emptiness with this new work, a Man Booker International short-lister fluidly Anglophoned by Han's three-time collaborator Smith. [See Prepub Alert, 8/13/18.]-Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

1 I In the spring, when I decided to write about white things, the first thing I did was make a list. Swaddling bands Newborn gown Salt Snow Ice Moon Rice Waves Yulan White bird "Laughing whitely" Blank paper White dog White hair Shroud With each item I wrote down, a ripple of agitation ran through me. I felt that yes, I needed to write this book and that the process of writing it would be transformative, would itself transform into something like white ointment applied to a swelling, like gauze laid over a wound. Something I needed.  But then, a few days later, running my eyes over that list again, I wondered what meaning might lie in this task, in peering into the heart of these words. If I sift those words through myself, sentences will shiver out, like the strange, sad shriek the bow draws from a metal string. Could I let myself hide between these sentences, veiled with white gauze?  This was difficult to answer, so I left the list as it was and put off anything more. I came abroad in August, to this country I'd never visited before, got a short-term lease on an apartment in its capital, and learned to draw out my days in these strange environs. One night almost two months later, when the season's chill was just beginning to bite, a migraine set in, viciously familiar. I washed down some pills with warm water and realized (quite calmly) that hiding would be impossible. Now and then, the passage of time seems acutely apparent. Physical pain always sharpens the awareness. The migraines that began when I was twelve or thirteen swoop down without warning, bringing with them agonizing stomach cramps that stop daily life in its tracks. Even the smallest task is left suspended as I concentrate on simply enduring the pain, sensing time's discrete drops as razor-sharp gemstones, grazing my fingertips. One deep breath drawn in and this new moment of life takes shape as distinctly as a bead of blood. Even once I have stepped back into the flow, one day melding seamlessly into another, that sensation remains ever there in that spot, waiting, breath held. Each moment is a leap forward from the brink of an invisible cliff, where time's keen edges are constantly renewed. We lift our foot from the solid ground of all our life lived thus far and take that perilous step out into the empty air. Not because we can claim any particular courage, but because there is no other way. Now, in this moment, I feel that vertiginous thrill course through me. As I step recklessly into time I have not yet lived, into this book I have not yet written. Door This was something that happened a long time ago. Before signing the contract for the lease, I went to look at the apartment again. Its metal door had once been white, but that brightness had faded over time. It was a mess when I saw it, paint flaking off in patches to reveal the rust beneath. And if that had been all, I would have remembered it as nothing more than a scruffy old door. But there was also the way its number, 301, had been inscribed. Someone--perhaps another in a long line of temporary occupants--had used some sharp implement, maybe a drill bit, to scratch the number into the door's surface. I could make out each individual stroke: 3, itself three hand spans high; 0, smaller, yet gone over several times, a fierce scrawl that attracted attention. Finally, 1, a long, deep-gouged line, taut with the effort of its making. Along this collection of straight and curved wounds rust had spread, a vestige of violence, like long-dried bloodstains, hardened, reddish-black. I hold nothing dear. Not the place where I live, not the door I pass through every day, not even, damn it, my life. Those numbers were glaring at me, clenching their teeth shut tight. That was the apartment I wanted that winter, the apartment where I'd chosen to spin out my days. As soon as I'd unpacked, I bought a can of white paint and a good-size paintbrush. Neither the kitchen nor the bedroom had been repapered, and their walls were spotted with stains large and small. These dark splotches were especially conspicuous around any electrical switches. I wore pale gray tracksuit pants and an old white sweater, so the splatters wouldn't show up too badly. Even before I'd started to paint, I was unconcerned with achieving a neat, even finish. It would be enough, I reasoned, just to paint over the stains--surely white splotches are better than dirty ones? I swept my brush over the large patches on the ceiling where the rain must have seeped through at one time, watching gray disappear beneath white. I gave the sink's grubby bowl a wipe with a washcloth before painting it that same bright white, never mind that its pedestal was brown. Finally, I stepped out into the corridor to paint the front door. With each swish of the brush over the scar-laced surface, its imperfections were erased. Those deep-gouged numbers disappeared, those rusted bloodstains vanished. I went back inside the apartment to take a break and get warm, and when I came back out an hour later I saw that the paint had run. It looked untidy, probably because I was using a brush rather than a roller. After painting an extra coat over the top so the streaks were less visible, I went back inside to wait. Another hour went by before I shuffled out in my slippers. Snow had begun to scatter down. Outside, the alley had darkened; the streetlights were not yet on. Paint can in one hand, brush in the other, I stood unmoving, a dumb witness to the snowflakes' slow descent, like hundreds of feathers feathering down. Swaddling bands Swaddling bands white as snow are wound around the newborn baby. The womb will have been such a snug fit, so the nurse binds the body tight, to mitigate the shock of its abrupt projection into limitlessness. Person who begins only now to breathe, a first filling-up of the lungs. Person who does not know who they are, where they are, what has just begun. The most helpless of all young animals, more defenseless even than a newborn chick. The woman, pale from blood loss, looks at the crying child. Flustered, she takes its swaddled self into her arms. Person to whom the cure of this crying is as yet unknown. Who has been, until mere moments ago, in the throes of such astonishing agony. Unexpectedly, the child quiets itself. It will be because of some smell. Or that the two are still connected. Two black unseeing eyes are turned toward the woman's face--drawn in the direction of her voice. Not knowing what has been set in motion, these two are still connected. In a silence shot through with the smell of blood. When what lies between two bodies is the white of swaddling bands.   Newborn gown My mother's first child died, I was told, less than two hours into life. I was told that she was a girl, with a face as white as a crescent-moon rice cake. Though she was very small, two months premature, her features were clearly defined. I can never forget, my mother told me, the moment she opened her two black eyes and turned them toward my face. At the time, my parents were living in an isolated house, in the countryside near the elementary school where my father taught. My mother's due date was still far off, so she was completely unprepared when, one morning, her water broke. There was no one around. The village's sole telephone was in a tiny shop by the bus stop--twenty minutes away. My father wouldn't be back from work for another six hours. It was early winter, the first frost of the year. My twenty-two-year-old mother crawled into the kitchen and boiled some water to sterilize a pair of scissors. Fumbling in her sewing box, she found some white cloth that would do for a newborn's gown. Gripped by contractions and terribly afraid, she plied her needle as tears started down. She finished the tiny gown, found a thin quilt to use as swaddling bands, and gritted her teeth as the pain returned, quicker and more intense each time. Eventually, she gave birth. Still alone, she cut the umbilical cord. She dressed the bloodied little body in the gown she'd just made, and held the whimpering scrap in her arms. For God's sake don't die, she muttered in a thin voice, over and over like a mantra. After an hour had passed, the baby's tight-sealed eyelids abruptly unseamed. As my mother's eyes met those of her child, her lips twitched again. For God's sake don't die. Around an hour later, the baby was dead. They lay there on the kitchen floor, my mother on her side with the dead baby clutched to her chest, feeling the cold gradually enter into the flesh, sinking through to the bone. No more crying. Excerpted from The White Book by Han Kang All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.


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