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The White Book

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  11,830 ratings  ·  1,654 reviews
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
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published February 19th 2019 by Hogarth Press (first published May 25th 2016)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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 ·  11,830 ratings  ·  1,654 reviews

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Sean Barrs
Music is often associated with memory. I often hear a song and I’m taken back to a time, to a place, to a person, to an experience that I never will be able to regain: to a moment that song embodies that will forever be lost in the endless river of life. For Han Kang the colour white has a similar effect; it smashes open the floodgates to her mind and drops torrents of memory over the body of her writing.

"Why do old memories constantly drift to the surface?"

Because they never leave us. Beca
Jim Fonseca
Jun 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I read this book because I recently enjoyed this author’s novel The Vegetarian. The White Book is not a novel; it’s a collection of mostly one-page mini-essays, almost meditations, on things that are white.

The focus is on loneliness, loss and mortality. Several are about the whiteness of pain (the author suffers from migraines).


Amazing how many things that lend themselves to symbolism are white when you think of it. So we have pieces on baby gowns, rice, fog, breast milk, salt, sugar, pills, ha
Diane S ☔
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Such a difficult book to describe, difficult to review. A very unconventional narrative, but the writing is just gorgeous. Sad at times, a reflection on the sister that she never knew using the color white. Descriptions of the feelings these things invoke, politics, reminders of the past, present. Meaningful. Things that make one ponder, ask questions.

Lace curtain. "Is it because of some billowing whiteness within us, unsullied, inviolate, that our encounters with objects so pristine never fail
Elyse  Walters
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the 3rd book I’ve read by Han Kang, a phenomenal contemporary Korean writer. ‘The Vegetarian’.....was fierce with haunting prose making it very hard to put down. It was gut-wrenching painful for me personally having survived the horrific years when our daughter was starving herself to death.....
Yet....I knew I was reading something brilliant. I became an instant fan of Han Kang.

The next book I read by this young exceptional author was ‘Human Acts’. It was brutal.... one that I continued
holy f*cking moley.

review to come / 5 stars


i have loyalty to two things in life: brown butter chocolate chip cookies, and han kang


reading books by asian authors for aapi month!

book 1: kim jiyoung, born 1982
book 2: siren queen
book 3: the heart principle
book 4: n.p.
book 5: the hole
book 6: set on you
book 7: disorientation
book 8: parade
book 9: if i had your face
book 10: joan is okay
book 11: strange weather in tokyo
book 12: sarong party girls
book 13: the wind-up bird chronicle
Hmm ...

I don't know what to make of this book.

It's elegant, in a minimalist, subdued kind of way.

The font size is minuscule, there's a lot of white space and empty pages.

There are some nice passages, but also a whole lot of simple, simplistic, and "I don't get the point" kind of writing - writing for the sake of writing, or better said, I was reading it and not getting much out of it, despite wanting to.

I don't know - it's one of those "concept books".

You definitely have to be in the right ki
May 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I am quite unsure how to review this brilliant little book. I think it is something that needs to be experienced rather than read about. Told in a series of very short musings on different white things, Han Kang circles her own grief and Warsaw’s scarred history in a way that I found absolutely moving. I read the book mostly in one sitting (it is very short) and can only recommend doing that. This way the interplay between the blank spaces on the page, the photography, and the writing worked to ...more
Dec 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A short and intensely personal and poetic meditation but a very difficult one to encapsulate in a review.

The starting point is a simple list of white things but the book is haunted by many darker undertones. I am not sure how much I understood but it felt profoundly human, spare and elegant, every word charged.

This is my second book from the Man Booker International longlist (I had already read Die, My Love and bought this one before it was announced).
Jan 07, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, The White Book offers a spare meditation on memory, loss, and the color white. The book consists of a series of lyrical prose poems, each centering on a white object, from a flake of snow to a baby swaddle; across all pieces Han Kang recounts piecemeal the traumatic story of her mother’s giving birth to a stillborn daughter, years before she had the writer herself. The concept’s interesting and the narrative’s powerful, but the minimalist ...more
Paul Fulcher
Now shortlisted for the Man Booker International - and alongside Flights, one of the two outstanding remaining books:

"제발 죽지마. 한 시간쯤 더 흘러 아기는 죽었다.
죽은 아기를 가슴에 품고 모로 누워 그 몸이 점점 싸늘해지는 걸 견뎠다.

더이상 눈물이 흐르지 않았다."

"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. "

Chapter 5 of 한강 (Han Kang's) qu
James Francisco  Tan
"I hold nothing dear. Not the place where I live, not the door I pass through every day, not even, damn it, my life."

Why you keep on doing this to me, Han Kang? Why? This is the 3rd time you have aesthetically broken my heart and I loved it!
Aug 13, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: korea, 2020-read
English: The White Book
Korean literary superstar Han Kang writes about the sister she has never met: When her mother was 22, she was living in a remote area and gave birth to a premature little girl who died after a few hours. In "The White Book", the author employs the color white to meditate on the experience and what it meant for her parents and herself, the child that probably wouldn't have been born had her older sister survived.

The short book is structured in equally short chapters, all r
This comes across as a series of meditations on things that are white, written as vignettes in probing and poignant language you could call prose poetry. I was delighted with the majority of more than 60 pieces, most 1-2 pages long, as wonderful play with metaphors of white. But I was also drawn past delight to accommodation to dark and melancholy paths. The narrator, reflecting back from elderly years, is sharing how she comes to terms with many sources of suffering through the power of languag ...more
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
In the spring, when I decided to write about white things the first thing I did was to 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 sw
Eric Anderson
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It’s been thrilling to see the recent high acclaim and popularity for Han Kang’s powerful distinctive writing. She won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016 for “The Vegetarian” and her novel “Human Acts” is one of the most devastating portrayals of the victims and survivors of mass warfare that I’ve read. Even though she’s been publishing fiction in her native South Korea since 1995, Kang’s writing has only recently been made widely available to a Western audience through Deborah Smith’s e ...more
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
The narrator of this book doesn’t have a name in the book, although it’s no secret that this is an autobiographical work by this author and is a love letter to her long deceased older sister. The book starts with a list of white items, including swaddling bands, newborn gown, snow, ice and shroud. This book is a series of very short chapters consisting of meditation-like bursts of thoughts. Running through these thoughts is the story of the author’s young mother whose first child died only a cou ...more
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed Kang's acclaimed 'The Vegetarian', and this was so totally different in both format and style, that it came as something of a surprise. And while I could certainly 'appreciate' what she does here, I must say the results left me rather ... cold and indifferent; even though the sad event that occasions her musings here are something I can relate to, having had a stillborn older sibling myself.

Partially this has do to my dislike for spare poetic meditations, but may also be due to
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is sublimely beautiful and heart-breaking. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried when I read these words:

"If you can come to us now, then do. Slip on those clothes that the fire has borne to you, like slipping on a pair of a wings. Drink it like medicine or tea, our silence, dissolving into smoke in place of words."

Written like that, with no context, you may wonder why the outpouring of emotion. But this is a meditation on the death of the (unnamed) narrator’s baby sister, born before
Jan 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Han Kang and Deborah Smith are a match made in heaven. I feel its genius every time I finish reading any of Kang's books in Smith's translation.
This one is a very special to me. The City she refers to in White Book, is my hometown, Warsaw.
The book at its core is a meditation on grief. Kang juxtaposes City surrounded by neverending grief after thousands of its inhabitants were killed during Warsaw uprising and herself grieving after a sister, who died two hours after birth.
Kang has been said to
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned, translated
I didn't connect with this one, unfortunately. I really enjoyed the previous two novels I read by Han Kang and was looking forward to reading this. However, it is quite a different style than her more traditional novels. This is an examination of the color white, paralleled with the story of a woman who loses her baby hours after it is born. It re-imagines that baby's life in tandem with the narrator's own life who came into existence only because her older sibling did not survive. It's a very m ...more
Much annotated and very much loved. Han Kang’s words through Deborah Smith’s skilful touch are, as always, a different kind of magic!
The White Book is Han Kang's autobiographical meditation on the death of her newborn sister, who lived only for two hours. It's a difficult book to review because it's a difficult book to categorize. Part novel, part memoir, part poetry collection, The White Book ultimately comes together to form a poised and tender examination of grief and the transient nature of life and death.

If you've read The Vegetarian or Human Acts you'll know exactly what to expect from Kang's economical and unsentimenta
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This was an impulse checkout from the public library - a woman moves to Warsaw in winter and is inspired by a sister who died before she was born to meditate on the color white. What follows feels like essay, like Knausgaard with his lists of topics in his seasonal books, but with a definite female perspective.

TW for infant death and war violence.
Apr 23, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.75 stars rounded upto 4!
This short book is structured as a series of meditations on 'white things', from snow and white birds to the more abstract: silence; spirit; the concept of 'laughing whitely', a Korean phrase which describes forced, mirthless laughter. The narrator is living in an unfamiliar country, where she knows little of the language, and finds herself reflecting on the brief life and death of her sister – a baby her mother delivered herself at the age of 22; a child who lived for mere moments. The narrator ...more
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Kang and poetry or flash fiction fans
Hard to define (hence all the bookshelf tags). But do we need to? Kang has created a beautifully meditative exploration of grief from a distance. How do you grieve someone you never met? Whose dark shadow reaches down through the decades and covers everything you do?

I loved these little sketches that are interlinked, mostly revolving around the theme of white, which in Asia symbolizes death and mourning. For me, this was prose poetry veering on flash memoir (though it is sold as fiction). Much e
Very emotional set of words which mainly covers the death of her elder sister after only two hours of life. It is told through a series of very short scenes covering memories or events which all have something with the colour white in common. Sprinkled amongst the pages are some stark photographs which add to the general feeling of loneliness and loss. Hats off to the translator who was able to capture the author's rhythms and emotions amongst the sparsely used words. ...more
Sidharth Vardhan

"In the spring, when I decided to write about white things the first thing I did was to 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 sw
Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the third book I have read by Han Kang. I have read The Vegetarian and Human Acts. This memoir/reflection of sorts was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. My edition is from Granta.

It is wonderfully laid out. A lot of white space, apropos given the title of the book. It is about reflections of an older sister of hers who died shortly after the girl was born. It was extremely touching. The girl’s short life and end is told early on – it was so sad to read, but so
Viv JM
It is very difficult to describe this book! It is a series of short meditations/poetry themed around the colour white, with a thread of grief running through. The translation reads seamlessly, and the whole effect is beautiful and haunting.
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소설가 한강

Han Kang is the daughter of novelist Han Seung-won. She was born in Kwangju and at the age of 10, moved to Suyuri (which she speaks of affectionately in her work "Greek Lessons") in Seoul.

She studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. She began her writing career when one of her poems was featured in the winter issue of the quarterly Literature and Society. She made her official liter

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“Standing at this border where land and water meet, watching the seemingly endless recurrence of the waves (though this eternity is in fact illusion: the earth will one day vanish, everything will one day vanish), the fact that our lives are no more than brief instants is felt with unequivocal clarity.” 30 likes
“Each moment is a leap forwards 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.” 19 likes
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