I Have the Right to Destroy Myself
By Young-ha Kim
(Mariner Books, Paperback, 9780156030809, 132pp.)
Publication Date: July 2007
In the fast-paced, high-urban landscape of Seoul, C and K are brothers who have fallen in love with the same woman—Se-yeon—who tears at both of them as they all try desperately to find real connection in an atomized world. A spectral, nameless narrator haunts the edges of their lives as he tells of his work helping the lost and hurting find escape through suicide. Dreamlike and beautiful, the South Korea brought forth in this novel is cinematic in its urgency and its reflection of contemporary life everywhere—far beyond the boundaries of the Korean peninsula. Recalling the emotional tension of Milan Kundera and the existential anguish of Bret Easton Ellis, I Have the Right to Destroy Myself achieves its author’s greatest wish—to show Korean literature as part of an international tradition. Young-ha Kim is a young master, the leading literary voice of his generation.
Young-ha Kim's I Have the Right to Destroy Myself won Korea's Munhak-dongne prize and was a Border's Original Voices pick upon publication in the United States. He has earned a reputation as the most talented and prolific Korean writer of his generation, publishing five novels and three collections of short stories since 1996.
PRAISE FROM KOREA FOR I HAVE THE RIGHT TO DESTROY MYSELF
"[Kim’s] novels are fragments of his amazing imagination. With uncommon creativity, grotesque images, and stories that build on and into each other like a computer game, he perplexes his readers as much as he delights them."—LEADERS KOREA literary magazine
"Stylish .... Here are all the familiar tropes of the late coming-of-age novel: desire, self-destruction, boredom, and the inability of sex to extinguish all of the above. And yet this book is anything but predictable.... "I Have the Right to Destroy Myself" is also a work of resistance, but rather an existential one. Scenes wind down in an atmosphere of menacing ennui to a soundtrack of Leonard Cohen tunes.... Amazingly, this short novel never becomes a decadent love letter to suicide, or an excuse to drop a cluster of hipster signifiers. In fact, it reminds of a line written by French poet Baudelaire, himself a huge fan of "The Death of Marat," and a clear influence on this book. "Boredom," he wrote, "is pain spread out over time." Numbed into a state where they can''t express their pain with words, C. and K. do nothing. Gently, this novel makes sure we feel their loss for them." -- Newark Star Ledger
"Kim''s novel is art built upon art. His style is reminiscent of Kafka''s and also relies on images of paintings (Jacques-Louis David''s "The Death of Marat," Gustav Klimt''s "Judith") and film (Jim Jarmusch''s "Stranger Than Paradise"). The philosophy -- life is worthless and small -- reminds us of Camus and Sartre, risky territory for a young writer. Such heady influences can topple a novel. But Kim has the advantage of the urban South Korean landscape. Fast cars, sex with lollipops and weather fronts from Siberia lend a unique flavor to good old-fashioned nihilism. Think of it as Korean noir."
"As bleak, chilling, and economically written as Stephen Crane''s 1890s classics Maggie and George''s Mother, though with characters miles up the economic scale from Crane''s, Kim''s deadpan, elliptical story is even more like the enigmatic love (?) stories of Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang, whose work must be watched as raptly as Kim''s must be read. Mesmerizing."
"Mr. Kim''s writing is tense, elemental, tangy. Like Georges Simenon, his keen engagement with human perversity yields an abundance of thrills as well as chills (and for good measure, a couple of memorable laughs). This is a real find."
-author of Fixer Chao
"The interactions, thoughts and fantasies of four protagonists interweave in a dreamlike narrative that eschews chronology and sequence, examining the role of "morbid desires, imprisoned deep in the unconscious" in each''s experience. [T]he author is a stylish, inventive writer who builds eerie momentum out of cryptic conversations and deliberately imprecise characterizations. The brothers are both vividly differentiated and shown to possess similarly self-destructive traits. And the woman "a kind of Eternal Feminine temptress smiling and beguiling her way to oblivion”twirls around the text like a spinning jewel, appearing as an unresponsive drifter named Se-yeon, an avatar of the biblical heroine (and murderess) Judith as depicted by artist Gustav Klimt. The book''s dark doings are efficiently framed by descriptive allusions to famous paintings that celebrate death, and by the narrator''s assured orchestration of its siren call. Pretty sick, but absorbing. Noir with a piquant exotic twist."
"Korean novelist Kim''s tantalizing 1996 debut novel concerns a calculating, urbane young man who makes a business of helping his clients commit suicide.[An] eerie, elliptical narrative. Kim''s work is a self-conscious literary exploration of truth, death, desire and identity, and though it traffics in racy themes, it never devolves into base voyeurism." -- PW