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I Have the Right to Destroy Myself [Paperback]

Young-ha Kim
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

July 1 2007 Harvest Original

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.

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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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From Booklist

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, Ray

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I'M LOOKING AT JACQUES-LOUIS David's 1793 oil painting, The Death of Marat, printed in an art book. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing concept, lacking content July 17 2010
I was very intrigued by the description, but didn't meet my expectations.
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beware of strangers in art galleries July 19 2007
By Katherine V. Molina - Published on Amazon.com
This was a neat little find...also one of the more viscerally disturbing books I've read in a while. Dark, clear, spare writing and a very smooth translation. It scared the heck out of me the first time I read it, and so I started over and read it again. Check it out.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I really liked this book. July 26 2007
By Abc shopper - Published on Amazon.com
When I think about it "objectively" this book really wasn't THAT great. Normally I would rate it 4 or even 3 stars, but I just really enjoyed this book. When I first looked at it I thought "Oh, another book with death and sex. How 'deep.'" but something compelled me to read it, and it was great! The writing was simple, which I love because it frees one's mind to analyze the text. Clearly, there was a lot of thought and planning put into the structure of the book. Kim has a wonderful way of interleaving the stories that take place at different times which creates, as another reviewer stated, a "dream-like" effect. The transitions in time and to various parts of the story are seemless. This would be a wonderful book to analyze in full, and I certainly hope I have the time to do so! This is certainly an entertaining (though dark) book on any level -- for a light or indepth read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic debut Nov. 16 2012
By Soronia - Published on Amazon.com
Young-Ha Kim has a promising literary career ahead of him, and I think his prose is more than equal to his ideas. The execution of this dreamlike novel is quite excellent, and the moments that startle the reader from that dream are written with enough skill to make them disturbing without making them too sensational.

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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very strange concept. . . . Oct. 14 2012
By Ada Ardor - Published on Amazon.com
I saw this intriguing titled book several times, so in a spirit of good Christmas cheer, I purchased the book, and finished it in about a day. Very strange concept. You don't understand until the end what the narrator does. Narrator is absolutely frightening, listening to hotlines, always with the right tugs.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I Have the Right to Destory Myself May 11 2010
By Brekah - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have perhaps spent too long thinking on this book, but I have been struggling with how to approach it--with, even, my own thoughts on it in general. I know I have mentioned before that I am not necessarily a fan of contemporary fiction, be it Korean or otherwise; in order to enjoy it, I feel that a contemporary work must lack a certain feeling of pretentiousness. It seems as though so many contemporary authors know that they are doing something "different," and want to be praised for that difference; they are perhaps certain that they will "blow your mind." It's as though they panhandle to the sort of twenty-something that claims to have "really understood Lolita," or dismiss other works due to the popularity of the author, as opposed to the content or general worth of the work. It's a sort of falsehood that I've seen everywhere in post-college individuals, and it's rather grating. It's as though authors are writing for shock value, and the readers are eating it up. I feel as though it's a great fault of mine that I've become so judgmental of contemporary fiction, and yet I can't help but indulge the mental rolling of my eyes that seems to occur any time some author finds a new, "artistic" way to describe sex.

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.
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