The most helpless of all young animals. Pretty little baby, white as a moon-shaped rice cake. How I'd been born and grown up in the place of that death. 

'White as a moon-shaped rice cake' never made much sense until, at six, I was old enough to help out with making the rice cakes for Chuseok, forming the dough into small crescent moons. Before being steamed, those bright white shapes of rice dough are a thing so lovely they do not seem of this world. Only afterwards, dished up on a plate with a pine-needle garnish, did they become disappointingly matter-of-fact. Glistening with roasted sesame oil, their colour and texture transformed by heat and steam, they were tasty, of course, but utterly unlike their former loveliness.

So when my mother said 'white as rice cake', I realised, she meant a rice cake before it is steamed. A face as startlingly pristine as that. These thoughts made my chest grow tight, as though compressed with an iron weight.


An extract from The White Book by Han Kang and translated by Deborah Smith