Review – I Have The Right To Destroy Myself: Modern South Korean Literature From Young-Ha Kim

Playing with the tired themes of sex and death and bordering at times on sensationalism, Young-Ha Kim’s I Have the Right to Destroy Myself is still an engrossing read. Korea, and its heart of Seoul, is a dizzying place of high technology and modernity, but lurking beneath are dark desires and a disconnection with the surrounding world. This novel and its nihilistic characters prove memorable if at times slightly melodramatic read.

Modern Korean Literature

Young-Ha Kim’s I Have the Right to Destroy Myself is narrated by an anonymous person who facilitates the suicides of others. After completing a job, he then writes their story with the novel consisting of two women who make use of his services. The apathy of the characters, adrift and depressed, reflects the alienation of many in post-modern societies. The novel is dark and brooding, filled with meaningless sex and preposterous characters, but despite this, it remains engaging.

The novel focuses on various stories with the competitive brothers K and C being focal characters. They each are engaged in a relationship with a woman nicknamed Judith, called so after a Gustav Klimt painting. K is a speed-addicted taxi driver searching for meaning in his life while his brother C, a video artist, sheds those around him. As Judith mysteriously disappears, K struggles while C moves onto Mimi, a performance artist also utilizing the services of the narrator.

The middle section of the novel focuses on the narrator’s brief affair with a woman in Europe. Also dissatisfied, she is not at the point where she chooses death. The narrator and many of the characters come across as slightly affected with slightly forced references to art throughout the book. The narrator’s character is not really explored or developed, and the interlude fails to provide much depth to the story.

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A Short Asian Novel

As K and C confront longing and death, and while the characters muse on art and life, the novel moves towards its ending. Although the plot is minimal, the writing conveys a sense of alienation and hopelessness which aids the story tremendously. The motivations of the characters, and their desire for suicide, are barely touched upon, while the conflict between K and C is only superficially explored. The novel however is short and is a good opportunity to explore a young Asian voice reflecting some of the concerns of his society.

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