Book Review - Greek Lessons by Han Kang

Greek Lessons
is a book for the literati. Those who are familiar with Han Kang expect that. But Greek Lessons is more esoteric than say The Vegetarian. On the onset of the novel, we're introduced to a woman who has lost her ability to speak. As her muteness silences her world, she enters a class studying Greek. The professor, who finds the young woman magnetizing, is seeing his world disappear as his vision is deteriorating. The story then interweaves these two stories of lost senses together; eventually, their two worlds become interconnected and eventually collide.

The framework here seems obvious, but Kang's craft is unparallel. The text weaves the two narratives together fairly seamlessly, but eventually, the text becomes sparse, optioning for poetry over proseoOr foregoing traditional prose and spacing single sentences out over pages. At other times, the silence bounces through the text in staccato fashion. These moments are a highlight as the text feels rich. Discussion worthy at every moment.

But there are more complexities that the text unravels. While language and vision are challenging, sound becomes a reverberating motif throughout. Breath, lips and the face are heavily emphasized. If it sounds like I'm writing a thesis, it's because Greek Lessons often feels like one.

As for the young woman, she is immediately enthralling. Fans of linguistics and Chomsky will find so much to decipher. As for the professor, he too has wonderful moments worthy of your attention, but when their worlds collide, his voice becomes overpowering. I longed for the silence of the young woman. For a book that carefully balances the two voices, it does feel slightly unbalanced towards the end.

No doubt, Greek Lessons isn't an easy novel. At times, Han Kang is downright cryptic.  In one moment our character wonders, "Make no judgments. Ascribes no emotions. Everything appears as fragments, scatters as fragments. Disappears." And it's moments like these where the reader can't help but pronounce words aloud or whisper them off the tongue. As if marbles gobbled up our own mouth and we're left to only wonder what any of it could mean. 

While this was published today, Greek Lessons was written in 2011 before Kang's fame. It lacks the polish of her newer novels, but there's also something undoubtedly challenging to the norms of what we expect as readers. You can't help but admire writing like this. It's certainly not for those who dislike thinking, but those of us unafraid of challenge will find something unlike anything else this year. 

Release date: April 18, 2023
MSRP: $20.99


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