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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


I Have the Right to Destroy Myself

Kim Young-ha

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To purchase I Have the Right to Destroy Myself

Title: I Have the Right to Destroy Myself
Author: Kim Young-ha
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 119 pages
Original in: Korean
Availability: I Have the Right to Destroy Myself - US
I Have the Right to Destroy Myself - UK
I Have the Right to Destroy Myself - Canada
La Mort à demi-mots - France
Das Gottesspiel - Deutschland
  • Korean title: 나는 나를 파괴할 권리가 있다
  • Translated by Chi-Young Kim

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Our Assessment:

B+ : engrossing but creepy

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly B+ 6/7/2007 Wook Kim
The LA Times . 15/7/2007 Susan Salter Reynolds
Welt am Sonntag . 24/9/2006 C. v. Ungern-Sternberg

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) determinedly "literary" effort -- Big Themes, a fractured narrative, shifting characters -- that explores, with a delicate but morbid sensibility, the alienating effects of life in the late 20th century." - Wook Kim, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Young-Ha Kim's novel is art built upon art. His style is reminiscent of Kafka's and also relies on images of paintings (...) and film (...). The philosophy -- life is worthless and small -- reminds us of Camus and Sartre, risky territory for a young writer. Such heady influences can topple a novel. But Kim has the advantage of the urban South Korean landscape. Fast cars, sex with lollipops and weather fronts from Siberia lend a unique flavor to good old-fashioned nihilism. Think of it as Korean noir." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Das Gottesspiel ist ein Roman über wirre Videoaktionskunst, den Konsum von 'Chupa Chups'-Lollys, leidenschaftslosen Sex und das Überschreiten der Grenze zwischen Leben und Tod. Young-ha beschreibt all das nüchtern, distanziert, fast emotionslos. Ein düsterer Roman, glänzend geschrieben." - Christoph von Ungern-Sternberg, Welt am Sonntag

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       I Have the Right to Destroy Myself is a multi-layered text, dominated by a nameless narrator who helps (or, more accurately, prods) people to commit suicide. He's a somewhat twisted angel of mercy, seeking out candidates and nudging them towards the deed, convincing them that suicide is the way to go. It's a business -- those he selects become his clients, and he mentions that: "I can survive for half a year if I find just one" -- but finding and preparing someone to kill themselves is clearly akin to creating a work of art for him, and it's no surprise that art figures so prominently in the account.
       The narrator admits to being a storyteller:

Sometimes fiction is more easily understood than true events. Reality is often pathetic. I learned at a very young age that it was easier to make up stories to make a point. I enjoy creating stories. the world is filled with fiction anyway.
       His "executed contracts" become stories too, as he writes down what the clients tell him and about their time together. He's obviously obsessed with variations of transforming experience into art: the book begins with a description of David's The Death of Marat, and a Klimt painting also figures prominently. One of the characters is also a performance artist -- one who doesn't want to let herself be filmed. His stories -- like his staged suicides -- are attempts to capture something, to make a certain kind of art. And he has specific ideas of how to go about it:
We should all emulate David. An artist's passion shouldn't create passion. An artist's supreme virtue is to be detached and cold.
       And he practises what he preaches.
       The layered narrative offers the story of some of his clients/victims, focussed less on the final act than on their lives leading to it. These aren't obvious suicides, but they allow themselves to be manipulated into it, their aimlessness letting him direct them to it.
       Kim presents some of this very well -- some of the writing is very good, and the voice and descriptions are (often creepily) convincing. From high-speed driving in Seoul to visits in Viennese museums to an unusual mannequin-job, Kim offers a lot of vivid variety here -- though the many shifts make the whole less coherent than it perhaps should be. But he certainly gets the unsettling feel down right, making for a powerful and disturbing read.

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I Have the Right to Destroy Myself: Reviews: Other books by Kim Young-ha under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Korean literature

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About the Author:

       Korean author Kim Young-ha (김영하) was born in 1968.

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© 2007-2019 the complete review

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