I Have the Right to Destroy Myself Paperback – Jul 2 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Korean novelist Kim's tantalizing 1996 debut novel concerns a calculating, urbane young man who makes a business of helping his clients commit suicide. The narrator's favorite painting, Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Marat, encapsulates his outlook—to be detached and cold, an approach reflected in his account of a recent client who was romantically involved with two brothers (called C and K). The woman, Se-yeon, is a young, spacey, lollipop-sucking drifter who first hangs out with K before bedding C. Cab-driver K and video artist C become obsessed with Se-Yeon, who looks (to them) like Gustave Klimt's Judith. Judith, as they subsequently refer to her, later wanders off into a snowstorm, never to be seen by the brothers again. However, in this eerie, elliptical narrative, Judith reappears as the narrator's client. Moreover, Judith morphs into other objects of desire, such as a woman from Hong Kong the narrator meets in Vienna and an elusive performance artist named Mimi whom C films. 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. (July)
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Kim's first novel reeks of 1990s South Korea, whose rising generation was the first to enjoy the freedoms and the attendant anomie of a wealthy society. There are three male and three female protagonists. The men are the narrator and brothers C, a video artist, and K, a taxi driver. The women are Judith (so-called by C, after the biblical heroine as painted by Gustav Klimt), whom K beds first (in C's apartment) but loses to C; a woman the narrator meets in Vienna; and performance artist Mimi, averse to cinematic media but willing to have C tape her. It is eventually disclosed that Judith and Mimi are clients of the narrator, who writes novels, perhaps including this one, but maintains a sideline in promotive rather than preventive suicide counseling. 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. Olson, RaySee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
This book had the potential to be something big, but I felt like I was sold short overall. It was pieced together rather awkwardly; I felt as if the author grew tired of writing a novel and just started to put anything in it to wrap it up. If given the chance, I'd give it back to the author and tell him to write more, fill in some blanks, carry on with the concept of what had potential to be a really great story.
Also, it's more of a novella, not a novel (just over 100 pgs), which I missed in the description, lol.
I would say I'm more neutral in terms of suggesting to read it or not; it's far from the worst thing I've read, but most definitely not the best, either. To summarize by common day terms: "meh"
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Good contemporary fiction, however, is as wonderful as it is rare. An author that can shine through and depict his/her story in an honest and genuinely creative way is a true artist, and I'm happy to see that they are still around. I just wish that there were more of them.
That, I suppose, sums up my view on contemporary fiction.
And now for I Have the Right to Destroy Myself by Young-ha Kim. The book follows a rather omniscient narrator though a dream-like Seoul as he navigates through the tangled lives of those who don't wish to live anymore, and those that surround them. He's a sort of dark mercy angel, never encouraging individuals to kill themselves, but aiding them when they do. He makes no claims on honesty, believing that fiction holds more merit than fact, so the reader has no guarantee that what he says is true. This effect, as well as his tone and the author's brilliant writing style, gives the book a mystical feeling, a sort of disconnect that remains whether the narrator focuses on his own life or the lives of two brothers and the woman they share in common.
Even after all of my thinking, I do not know quite what to say about this book. I fall back and forth from declaring it to be pretentious beyond a doubt to believing it to be honestly compelling. I think, however, that I can at last "assign" it a verdict.
I think that it is a very individual work that exists apart from the contemporary pretension that is rife on the markets. The book is indeed packed with shock value, existentialism, and other recipes for obtaining a modern audience, but I don't get the same sense of falseness from this work that I get from so many others. It feels genuine.
What lead me to this conclusion is the simple fact that I thought about the book for so long. It wasn't easy to approach; I rehashed the plot, characters, and writing style (which was brilliant in the English translation, and probably more so in Korean) constantly in my mind. The fact that the book kept me hooked for so long after I had read it leads me to believe that it was genuine in every respect.
My next step? I plan on reading Kim's other novels, as well as getting a hold of the original Korean texts. I want to gain what ever what lost in translation, and see where that takes me.
The story has five characters; C and K, two brothers who are both infatuated with Judith, an enigmatic and damaged woman. We also encounter a mysterious narrator and Mimi, a performance artist. The relationships are at once intense and tangential, touching only briefly and leaving insufficient impact to really change each other.
My only concern is that this feels a little like other postmodern novels. The characters and settings are new, but the process by which they arrive at their decisions is not. I think if Kim had had more time to develop the central relationship between the brothers and give more attention to the "narrator," it would have been five stars. Kim clearly has good ideas, but his musings on suicide in its many forms is too brief (after all, the title is I Have the Right to Destroy Myself--a provocative claim), too buried within some of the characters and too obvious in others. Mimi and Judith are perfect as stark symbols to the male characters, and I seeing them through the eyes of C and K gives them a certain archetypal quality. C and K, suffering in crushing, quiet loneliness, also have a certain symbolic nature. But self-destruction is a uniquely personal act, and if Kim was trying to demonstrate the different types of people who assert their right to do so, he fell short of making the personal as compelling as the symbolic.