Tuesday 1 January 2008

63. I Have the Right to Destroy Myself

Finding South Korean literature translated into English and available in Canada is surprisingly difficult given how widely available translated Chinese and Japanese works are. I was thus surprised and pleased to find Young-Ha Kim's I Have the Right to Destroy Myself prominently displayed in Pages while I was browsing there one day a few months ago.

I hadn't even heard of Kim, in spite of my time in South Korea, so I promptly added this book to my now deleted wish list - and Deb sent this to me for Festivus.

I picked it up this morning after deciding to kick the Rao book to the curb, and even though I made Brook and I a lovely tofu scramble for brunch, we visited friends at a New Year's open house in the afternoon, and I made homemade soup for dinner, I still easily finished this one tonight - it was only 120 pages and an easy read.

I'm not sure if it was a pleasurable read, however. It was intriguing, yes. It didn't irritate me in any way. I certainly enjoyed it at points. Yet, I'm still not sure if I liked it. It's exceptionally post-modern, which may be part of my ambivalence. I like the basic premise of the book - the narrator's job is to convince people to kill themselves (for which they pay him); but he's also writing a novel, so it's not clear if he's really doing these things or if his art and his reality aren't clearly delineated. Indeed, the line between art and reality is often crossed in this book (in the lives the narrator affects) with terrible personal consequences. I guess it's the lack of clarity that's bugging me.

I guess it's not then the post-modernism per se that bugs me, but that some authors aren't as good as others at making both the connections and the vacuums meaningful, if that makes sense. I feel that Kim must have been influenced by Haruki Murakami but that he may have liked Murakami's later work too much (like Kafka on the Shore) which never fulfills its own promise instead of his earlier work (especially Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World) which often does.

In the end, I'm glad I read it if only to get a sense of the kind of literature that wins young Korean authors awards these days. Being taken on a tour of the craziness of living in Seoul, if only briefly, wasn't bad either.

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