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Friday, August 03, 2007

Book Review: I Have the Right to Destroy Myself by Young-Ha Kim

Young-Ha Kim has published four novels and numerous short stories. His latest novel is I Have the Right to Destroy Myself.

I’m not certain that we do have the right to destroy ourselves, but the narrator of Young-Ha Kim’s novel feels so.

I don’t encourage murder. I have no interest in one person killing another. I only want to draw out morbid desires, imprisoned deep in the unconscious.

The unnamed narrator is a bit of a contract killer, but the contract you take out is on yourself instead of on someone else. He wanders the city of Seoul, looking for the lonely. There he finds Judith and Mimi, both women who happen to become in some way involved with the same man, C.

In the Judith story, C and his brother K both fall for Judith. Judith uses them both and eventually leaves them both. In the Mimi story, Mimi is a performance artist who becomes involved with C, who is a video artist. As with Judith, C is unable to connect with Mimi and she too eventually leaves.

The subject matter of the novel is a tad sketchy, especially since it’s being recommended for older teen reading. I’m not sure that I’d want teens reading this type of novel and identifying with any of the characters. At the same time, the writing is highly dreamlike and cinematic. There’s a certain dark brilliance in the writing and how Young-Ha Kim has captured the tone of these listless characters.

I Have the Right to Destroy Myself is well worth reading, but I’d be careful recommending it to anyone lacking strong convictions. It’s not a glorified suicide book, but the intensity and aimlessness of the characters is alarming and the ease with which they seem to destroy themselves is unnerving.

The cover is gorgeous.