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.
This excerpt taken from the chapter, “Newborn gown” is what readers can expect from Han Kang’s latest offering, The White Book, in which Kang started off the idea of the book with a list of things that were white. Transcending to far more than that, The White Book is a meditation that explores grief and resilience. The book has haunting passages, much like the aforementioned excerpt, which deals with the loss of a baby and connects the colour of white to the newborn gown, but also to other symbolism such as birth and innocence. But upon reading this book, one begins to ponder if, indeed, the colour white can be associated with loss and grief.
Perhaps when we close our eyes, we see the whiteness of our grief. The purity but also the bleariness. The once-upon-a-time grief that we so painfully held in our hearts as we broke down at the sight of anything that could remind us of a painful memory. Although the pain has narrowly melted away, when we reminisce do we relive those memories a little brighter, whiter? Quite like a reverie, completely out of arm’s reach, but close enough for our senses to be heightened. Remembering a smell of taste vividly that it feels as though science cannot explain it. With everything that we lose we must remember that there are still things around us that remind us of a better time or of a time we would rather not relive.
…I spoke of my dog, who died when I was five years old… I still have a black-and-white photo of the two of us, a candid shot of an intimate moment, but strangely enough, I cannot remember him alive. My one vivid memory is of the morning when he died. White fur, black eyes, still damp nose. From them on I developed an aversion to dogs that has persisted to this day. Rather than reaching out to tousle soft fur, my arms stays clamped to my side.
Kang recalls her time in Warsaw, Poland exploring its rich tapestry of a sad and dark history. Dark, is what we would all associate Warsaw’s history with, but for Kang, it was quite the opposite. Many of the chapters, although dealing with darker subject matter, all has the association with whiteness. Much of this is due to atmosphere that Kang explores. Such as Fog. The looming fog that can surround us has a sense of dread and fear, but in this case it only highlights her experience in Warsaw. The whiteness of fog heightens the darkness of Warsaw’s history.
Everything was back within the borders of itself, holding its breath. Holding its breath, and waiting for the next fog.
What do the ghosts of this city do, these muffled early-morning hours?
Slip soundlessly out to walk through the fog that has been holding its breath, and waiting?
Han Kang’s The White Book is part memoir, part meditation, a piece of work to be experienced, and I believe that there is an urgency to read it as soon as you can. Currently longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, I believe the buzz behind this book is justified. For those who long, who suffer, who ride the tides of nostalgia, this book is for you. This book is for those who have experienced sadness and those who feel the sadness of others to an unexplainable extent. A haunting and memorable book, The White Book is a masterpiece in its own right.
This book was sent to me by Portobello Books.