Books

Marjorie Celona recommends reading The White Book by Han Kang right now

Marjorie Celona is a Canadian novelist whose latest novel is How a Woman Becomes a Lake.

CBC Books asked Canadian writers for the books to read during uncertain times

Marjorie Celona recommends reading The White Book by Korean author Han Kang. (Hogarth, Jay Eads)

CBC Books reached out to Canadian writers for the books they recommend during uncertain times.

Marjorie Celona's new book is How a Woman Becomes a Lake. The dark and suspenseful novel unravels the mystery of a woman's disappearance from a small fishing town.

Celona is also the author of Y, for which she won France's Grand Prix Littéraire de l'Héroïne and was a Giller Prize nominee.

She recommends reading The White Book by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith.

"A few weeks before quarantine, our family rented a cabin overlooking the McKenzie River. I brought with me Han Kang's The White Book. Kang's The Vegetarian is on my list of 'favourite' books, near the top. The White Book is more associative and fragmented than its stunning predecessor — it's as much a collection of poetry as a novel.

"The narrator's sister died before she was born, leaving a long shadow of survivor's guilt, a palpable ghost. Like the time we find ourselves in now, there is no narrative. There is no plot, save for what you assemble in your mind.

Like the time we find ourselves in now, there is no narrative. There is no plot, save for what you assemble in your mind.

"Each section offers a meditation on something white, on grief, on a memory. Small white pills; sugar cubes; the 'powdered bones' of her mother's ashes. Most take up no more than half a page — the book itself is mostly whiteness.

"I read it in stolen moments, 160 pages in seven weeks. I finished it one afternoon while my daughter played in the bath, milky with soap. How exciting a sugar cube must have been, the first time she tasted it. How exciting, the first time she saw snow. But, for now, in quarantine, all we can do is daydream — like reading, a pastime about lives never lived.

"I sit and wait for 'our lives' miraculous diffusion, out into the empty air." 

Marjorie Celona's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now