May 31, 2019
Han Kang “gives” new work to Norwegian forest
by Tom Clayton
This week, a new work by South Korean novelist Han Kang was “given” to a forest in Norway, where it will remain locked in a spruce-lined room until 2114. The author, who won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016 for The Vegetarian, has only revealed the title of the manuscript: Dear Son, My Beloved.
It will join works by Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Sjón, and Elif Shafak in a locked room in a library in Oslo, which will be opened in 95 years’ time. Dear Son, My Beloved now becomes part of The Future Library project, which will commission the works every year between 2014 and 2114, and is headed up by Scottish artist Katie Paterson and Oktober Press publishing director Ingeri Engelstad.
The scheme has also overseen the responsible planting and maintenance of a thousand spruce and birch trees in 2014 in Nordmarka, Norway , a forested area north of Oslo. When the trees reach full maturity after 100 years, they will be cut down and partially used to print all 100 books in the series.
Alison Flood, reporting on the story for the Guardian, quotes David Mitchell’s hopeful response to the project:
“Everything is telling us that we’re doomed, but the Future Library is a candidate on the ballot paper for possible futures. It brings hope that we are more resilient than we think: that we will be here, that there will be trees, that there will be books, and readers, and civilisation.”
Trailing a white ceremonial cloth through the forest, Kang then wrapped her manuscript in it before presenting it to the project’s curators:
“It was like a wedding of my manuscript with this forest. Or a lullaby for a century-long sleep, softly touching the earth all the way,”
The nature of the project means that no one except the authors have read the work they have submitted; it is as much an exercise in trusting the artist as it is trusting future generations to care for the works.
Trust, optimism, care, hope—all these are things we could do with more of in the world, and Future Library are to be commended for bringing them to the fore of their project. The eventual results promise to be the literary event of next century.
Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.