A woman attends ancient Greek classes in Seoul with a teacher who is progressively losing his sight and who one day asks his student to read aloud. She can not. She herself, a literature teacher, has lost her language again, like years ago, when she was 16. The voice. A loss that coincides with that of her mother, deceased, and that of her son, whose custody has fallen to her father. Fascinated by words since she was a child, she believes that immersing herself in Plato’s Greek, the language that gave birth to the West, can restore her speech. It is the beginning of the novel the greek class (Random House/La Magrana), by the Korean writer Han Kang, International Booker Prize winner for the acclaimed The vegetarian . A novel in which Jorge Luis Borges, Plato and Buddhism are mixed to reflect on the power and limits of language, reality and illusion and the possibility of an encounter between humans beyond words or images. Perhaps the fingers are enough. The tenderness.
“Always before writing a novel there are many reasons floating around that intersect. This was born from visualizing a scene. A dark place with no other means of communication than a hand with very short nails that writes on the palm of another hand. A tactile moment, of sensations, in which the hot and the soft are felt. From there the characters were born ”, says Kang in a soft and very low voice, almost a breeze, who presents his novel in Madrid.
“Language is slippery, it always makes us fail, it is the arrow that always misses,” remarks Kang.
A work in which language is omnipresent. A therapist asks the protagonist if her fascination with him is not due to her intuiting as a child that “the bond that unites language and the world is terribly weak.” Kang believes so: “Language is slippery, you always slip with it. It always makes us fail. It is the arrow that always misses. But it is the only means we have to communicate.”
Borges, who like the protagonist gradually lost his sight, is another mainstay of the novel. “His latest works by him have those poetic notes and his way of expressing is similar to a poem,” recalls Kang, also a poet. “When I wrote the novel before the greek class , very long, I was tired, I stopped writing for months and I couldn’t read any fiction books. Except Borges,” she recalls. Now the professor of his new novel, who has read the Argentine’s conference on Buddhism, quotes one of his phrases: “The world is an illusion and life is a dream.” And he reflects on her: “How can it be a dream if blood flows and hot tears flow?”
For Kang, “what Borges said is the same as the fundamental idea of Buddhism. I have been a fan of Buddhism since I was twenty and I feel like he was too. I understand that he liked him a lot because in Buddhism when someone has an arrow stuck in them, people do not comment on why it happened to them, but rather they remove the arrow. Buddhism makes us see directly the suffering that is in this world, but from a distance. Not to run away, but to see clearly, but from a distance.”
Curiously, another distance, the one between Spain and your country, has been reduced in the midst of the explosion of South Korean culture in the world: “When I came to Spain after the pandemic, I have found many people who greet me in Korean, who tell me who learn Korean culture, I was very surprised. And more so with literature, which always comes later than the rest because of the translation wall”, he smiles.