If we should now think of the global novel as "born translated" and as shaped, in many cases, by a humanitarian ethos of witnessing—as Rebecca Walkowitz and Debjani Ganguly have argued respectively, one nexus for examining how this genre is being transformed is the growing number of works from South Korea that have begun to find an international audience. The focus of this essay is Han Kang, the South Korean writer who has probably developed the highest international profile, largely the result of her novel The Vegetarian having received the Man Booker International Prize in 2016. This essay offers analyses of that novel and Han's follow-up Human Acts that model a contrapuntal way of reading contemporary South Korean works that is attentive to the national context in which they were written, to the specific and local histories they refract, and to the implication in that history of readers who encounter those works in the West. These works focus attention on the Gwangju Uprising, a largely peaceful civilian protest that emerged in May 1980 against the military dictatorships that had ruled the country for decades, one that was brutally suppressed by South Korean military forces. In depicting an event that was epochal for South Koreans though largely unremarked by outsiders, Han's writings do more than simply bring to the world another forgotten history. Indeed they exhort readers in the English-speaking world—and particularly of those in the US—to engage in an "affective witnessing" (Ganguly) of such episodes of militarized violence that recognizes them as part of an assemblage of transnational histories of empire that is inclusive of their own.


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pp. 375-399
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