“The Middle Voice”
by Han Kang
translated from the French by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won
from the February 6, 2023 issue of The New Yorker
Greek Lessons, the forthcoming book from which this story is an excerpt, will be the fifth book we get from Han Kang (if my quick scan is right). I didn’t hear about Convalescence, her first novel translated into English, but I well remember the publishing phenomenon that was her second, The Vegetarian. I read and enjoyed The Vegetarian, but not enough to rush to read the next two, Human Acts and The White Book. I’d be curious to hear everyone’s thoughts on those!
Greek Lessons has an interesting premise: a woman taking a Greek language course finds herself unable to speak; the teacher finds himself losing his sight. This excerpt goes through that portion of the story. Indeed, here is the first few paragraphs, when she loses her ability to speak as she watches the teacher write on the blackboard.
The woman brings her hands together in front of her chest. Frowns, and looks up at the blackboard.
“O.K., read it out,” the man with the thick-lensed, silver-rimmed spectacles says with a smile.
The woman’s lips twitch. She moistens her lower lip with the tip of her tongue. In front of her chest, her hands are quietly restless. She opens her mouth, and closes it again. She holds her breath, then exhales deeply. The man steps toward the blackboard and patiently asks her again to read.
Where will this all go? I’m not sure, and, while I remember well the strangeness (in both tone and content) we find in The Vegetarian, I do not know what kind of tone and subject matter we find in Han Kang’s other work. Please let us know your thoughts on this story (or the other work) below!
I feel the fact that this is an excerpt makes it harder to fully flesh out its themes and metaphors as they will undoubtedly flourish over the entire work.
This is dense, thoughtful material dealing with the relation between thoughts, spoken words, and written words and the physical trace of these and their relation to one’s sense of embodiment.
I wonder if an entire work at this level would not possibly get easier as one got acclimated to the ideas and they could be elucidated at depth or might it just seem REALLY heavy.
I wish more people were commenting here as I’d love to hear other opinions.
BTW: Trevor the story is translated from Korean not French.
Oh, how I wish to say that I made it all the way through, but I just couldn’t find the will/want. (Made it 1/2 way)
I felt like the premise was understood very quickly and the story went on repeat, paragraph by paragraph.
I agree with Ken, this is DENSE, HEAVY and unfortunelty, tiresome.