“Is it because of some billowing whiteness within us, unsullied, inviolate, that out encounters with objects so pristine never fail to leave us moved?” (Page 79, The White Book.)
The White Book by Han Kang is a poetic novel that reads almost like a meditation or prayer on the color white. The novel lacks a concrete plot and follows the life of a nameless narrator. Rather than chapters, the novel contains various entries that are related to the color white. The entries are a collection of white objects and things, mixed with the narrator’s own thoughts and snapshots from her life. The novel can feel like a journal, poetry book, or even a dedication to all things white.
Throughout the entries, readers begin to see the different aspects of the color white. The entries include different manifestation of white and asks questions like “What makes the color white?” and “What makes white stand out?” The symbolisms of white such as death, purity and innocence are also included throughout the entries.
The book is divided to three parts: “I,” “She,” and “All Whiteness.” In “I,” readers are introduced to the narrator who is the author of the entries. The narrator begins with a list of white things. Here, readers are able to witness the narrator’s thought and interpretation on various white objects. In “She,” the entries are no longer written in the perspective of the narrator. Rather, it seems almost like the entries are written in the perspective of someone who has observed the narrator throughout her life. Finally, in “All Things White,” the narrator returns and is the one authoring the entries again.
As the novel continues, readers soon discover that the narrator is dealing with the guilt and unresolved grief of her sister’s death. In that sense, the novel also reads like a letter to the dead sister she never met. Her older sister died prematurely right after birth, but the narrator carries the feeling of guilt because she feels that she has somehow taken — stolen her sister’s life. Through the narrator, readers witness the consequences of unresolved grief, and how such grief can pass down to children and impact their psyche. The unresolved grief her mother carried affected the narrator, forcing the narrator to deal with this grief throughout her life.
Throughout the book, readers may feel that the only common feature among the entries is the color white, however, delicately threaded along these entries are the themes of life, innocence, death, and grief. While it is difficult to categorize The White Book into one genre, it is a beautifully written work that touches on some of the hardest truths about life and death. It is a quick read as most of the entries are short and fit in one page. However, readers will want to read some of the entries over and over again because of the beauty that is contained in those pages.