There is little enough modern literature from South Korea in translation that any new book at all is worth paying attention to. I am not sure how much Young-Ha Kim’s I Have The Right to Destroy Myself reflects what’s going on in that country’s literary scene right now, or if it’s even wise to assume one can reflect the state of the other. What I do know is that while not being a great book, I Have The Right is interesting enough on the face of it to make me want to read another Young-Ha Kim novel.
The unnamed narrator of Right is hard enough to pin down. On first reading, it seems that he’s a kind of assisted-suicide agent: he puts cryptically-worded ads in the papers that allow the suicidal to gravitate towards him. He does not kill them himself, but provides them with all the justification they need to complete the act. People are surprised by what he turns out to be, but as he says — no less cryptically — “Nobody really knows much about a god.” On a second reading, I came to believe the narrator is nothing less than a personified version of the suicidal impulse itself — a savage god, to borrow Al Alvarez’s term from his own book about suicide. Right’s narrator talks about death in the same way Yukio Mishima did — as a great artistic summing-up, a pruning-away of the dead wood to produce the real meaning of one’s life. Read more