Tuesday, December 4, 2012

[Review] I Have the Right to Destroy Myself - Young-ha Kim

Author: Young-ha Kim
Genre: Adult Fiction (Korean)
Published: 1996
Pages: 119
Rating: ★★

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. This lust, once freed, starts growing. Their imaginations run free, and they soon discover their potential . . . They are waiting for someone like me. 

A spectral, nameless narrator haunts the lost and wounded of big-city Seoul, suggesting solace in suicide. Wandering through the bright lights of their high-urban existence, C and K are brothers who fall in love with the same woman--Se-yeon. As their lives intersect, they tear at each other in a struggle to find connection in their fast-paced, atomized world. 

I like the idea behind I Have the Right to Destroy Myself, but there were so many scenes in the novel that just made me incredibly uncomfortable, so I can't say I liked the book. Call me a prude, but I don't like explicit sex scenes. Especially when they're super bizarre like they were. My eyes felt violated when I was done.

The nameless first-person narrator searches for his clients (who some would call victims) and seduces them into killing themselves. For a fee, he assists them. When the job's done, he goes on vacations to Europe and  writes about his clients. Death, to him, is a form of art. Though a lot of my classmates thought he was an evil serial killer, I thought of him as a dark hero. He puts people out of their misery and genuinely believes he's ending their suffering. I truly enjoyed his character and wish the novel focused solely on him, rather than the characters C and K.

Maybe I think of the narrator as more of a hero than a villain because I felt little sympathy toward his clients. They're all women who have been sexually abused or objectified at some point in their life, which is, of course, a serious matter. I feel bad for them in that sense. But it's the fact that they end up being so damaged and flaky that bothers me. I like down to earth characters, not the crazy "artistic" type that some of them turn out to be.

The novel is more translatable than the other Korean books I've read for my class. You don't have to know about Korean history, politics, or social issues to be able to make a meaningful connection with the book. In fact, there are more references to Western culture, especially Western art. The author begins his novel by describing the painting below, which really sets the tone of the book. 

The Death of Marat
Jacques-Louis David 
Overall, I give it two stars. It's an interesting read and I would recommend this book to anyone who likes bizarre, messed up stories. There's not a lot of violence in this novel (disappointing, I know), but you have to be able to stomach weird sex scenes (which I can't).


  1. Huh. You know, now that I think about it the only book that I've read that's been translated from another language (at least from what I remember) is Battle Royale. Out of curiosity, how's the transition to English? Like, do you know -- or could at least guess -- what was added or lost?

    Well, that aside, this was an interesting read. I'll admit that I can't exactly stomach...er, let's call them "adult situations", but at the very least it takes a flexible mind and a skilled hand to be able to bring those ideas and more to the forefront. If nothing else, I'd assume they add new ideas and themes to the story, and alter relationships as well...in theory, at least.

  2. Since I don't know Korean, I couldn't tell you if anything was lost in translation. But I think the author wrote with the intent of having his book translated into at least English, so I would say the version I read is fairly close to the original. I think the translator did a wonderful job. The style is simplistic, yet haunting. It was well done. I wish I could read the original though. Maybe someday.

    The majority of the scenes had some sort of "adult situation" in it. I guess I wanted the focus to be less on sex and more on their suicide. I also wish some of the "victims" were male instead of them all being women with serious issues.

    I think I would have given it more stars if there had been more of a plot to it.

  3. Ah, I see. It's been a while since I read the book, but I think Battle Royale was the same way, at least in my opinion -- nothing glaringly awkward, but notably simple. Though I suppose it's not exactly ideal to get too flowery in a book that revels in violence.

  4. I still haven't read that book! I own it, but just haven't gotten around to actually reading it (along with the hundred other books I own, but haven't read. Some say I have a problem). The movie was awesome though.

  5. I'm the opposite; I haven't seen the movie, but read the book a few years ago (and since then gave it to a friend). Should probably get around to watching it one of these days...