In a classroom in Seoul, a young woman watches her Greek language teacher at the blackboard. She tries to speak but has lost her voice. Her teacher finds himself drawn to the silent woman, for day by day he is losing his sight. Soon the two discover a deeper pain binds them together. For her, in the space of just a few months, she has lost both her mother and the custody battle for her nine-year-old son. For him, it's the pain of growing up between Korea and Germany, being torn between two cultures and languages, and the fear of losing his independence.
From where I sit, Kang is one of the most unconventional, perceptive and truly innovative writers publishing today ... Like all of her books, it’s preoccupied with deprivation and loss, and the effect both can have on the spirit ... The novel’s true power lies not in its plot, but in its prose ... Kang riddles the text with evocative descriptions that simultaneously illuminate and reflect ... Compared to Kang’s other books, Greek Lessons is a less straightforward read. Its majesty may not become fully apparent on the first go ... Her prose hits its mark.
Han Kang espouses a[n]...affinity for these territories of syntax and meaning; she also excels at capturing the ways in which they can be lonely and inaccessible ... The book is told in alternating perspectives, and the student’s chapters are written at a remove, in the third person. They reveal in subtle scenes of recollection and routine a heartsick person trying to access expression again, without her voice ... Han is at her best when focusing on the physicality of language, and readers of her previous work, most notably her acclaimed novel The Vegetarian, will recognize her flair for depicting a kind of voluptuous disgust ... The prose Han deploys, at once evocative and elliptical, complements her characters’ inner torment and alienation. There is a sense of inevitability when at last the protagonists begin, touchingly, to communicate with one another ... Demonstrates the breadth of Han’s writing style ... A silence spreads, at once captivating and distancing.
The juxtaposition of these two characters, with their respective sensory challenges, isn’t particularly nuanced ... As counterpoints to the flashbacks, Han injects fascinating insights on Hangul, the alphabet system used for writing the Korean language, and how it differs from the syntax of ancient Greek, and from German, which the teacher learned in childhood. This is a novel, above all, for readers drawn to considering language itself as a source of self-revelation ... To my ear, with no knowledge of Korean, the collaboration did not noticeably alter the cadence of Han’s voice in English. Yet something about that voice seems less certain in this book, less trusting of its ability to convey subtext. Some refrains about snow repeat a bit too often ... In addition to her incisive writing about bodily responses to language, Greek Lessons contains some exceptionally poignant scenes about a mother’s growing estrangement from her child ... This novel is a celebration of the ineffable trust to be found in sharing language, whether between parent and child, teacher and student, or between words spoken aloud and those traced, painstakingly, with a finger on someone else’s waiting palm.