From “one of South Korea’s best and most worldly writers” (NPR): An electric collection that captivates and provokes in equal measure, exploring what it means to be on the edge—between life and death, good and evil
“Filled with the kind of sublime, galvanizing stories that strike like a lightning bolt, searing your nerves . . . It’s easy enough to see why Kim . . . is acclaimed as the best writer of his generation; pick up this book and find out for yourself.” — Nylon
It’s been twenty-five years since I last murdered someone, or has it been twenty-six?
Diary of a Murderer captivates and provokes in equal measure, exploring what it means to be on the edge—between life and death, good and evil. In the titular novella, a former serial killer suffering from memory loss sets his sights on one final target: his daughter’s boyfriend, who he suspects is also a serial killer. In other stories we witness an affair between two childhood friends that questions the limits of loyalty and love; a family’s disintegration after a baby son is kidnapped and recovered years later; and a wild, erotic ride about pursuing creativity at the expense of everything else.
From “one of South Korea’s best and most worldly writers” (NPR), Diary of a Murderer is chilling and high-powered all the way through.
“Kim is expert at finding the humanity inside the other, the comedy inside the tragedy, and the twisted within the seemingly normal.” — CrimeReads
It’s been twenty-five years since I last murdered someone, or has it been twenty-six? Anyway, it’s about that long ago. What drove me back then wasn’t, as people usually assume, the urge to kill or some sexual perversion. It was disappointment. It was hope for a more perfect pleasure. Each time I buried a victim, I repeated to myself: I can do better next time.
The very reason I stopped killing was because that hope vanished.
I kept a journal. An objective report. Maybe I needed something like that at the time. What I’d done wrong, how that made me feel. I had to write it down so I wouldn’t repeat the same gut-wrenching mistakes. Just like students keep a notebook with all their test mistakes, I also kept meticulous records of every step of my murders and what I felt about them.
It was a stupid thing to do.
Coming up with sentences was grueling. I wasn’t trying to be literary and it was just a daily log, so why was it so difficult? Not being able to fully express the ecstasy and pity I’d felt made me feel lousy. Most of the fiction I’d read was from Korean-language textbooks. They didn’t have any of the sentences I needed. So I started reading poetry.
That was a mistake.
The poetry teacher at the community center was a male poet around my age. On the first day of class he made me laugh when he said solemnly, “Like a skillful killer, a poet is someone who seizes language and ultimately kills it.”
This was after I’d already “seized and ultimately killed” dozens of prey and buried them. But I didn’t think what I did was poetry. Murder’s less like poetry and more like prose. Anyone who tries it knows that much. Murdering someone is even more troublesome and filthy than you think.
Anyway, thanks to the teacher I got interested in poetry. I was born the type who can’t feel sadness, but I respond to humor.
I’m reading the Diamond Sutra: “Abiding nowhere, give rise to the mind.”
I took the poetry classes for a long stretch. I’d decided that if the class was lame I would kill the instructor, but thankfully, it was interesting. The instructor made me laugh several times, and he even praised my poems twice. So I let him live. He probably still doesn’t know that he’s living on borrowed time. I recently read his latest poetry collection, which was disappointing. Should I have put him in his grave back then?
To think that he keeps writing poems with such limited talent when even a gifted murderer like me has given up killing. How brazen.
I keep stumbling these days. I fall off my bicycle or trip on a stone. I’ve forgotten a lot of things. I’ve burned the bottoms of three teapots. Eunhui called and told me she made me an appointment at the doctor’s. While I yelled and roared with anger, she stayed silent until she said, “Something is definitely not normal. Something definitely happened to your head. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen you get angry, Abba.”
Had I really never gotten angry before? I was still feeling dazed when Eunhui hung up. I grabbed the cell phone to finish our conversation, but suddenly I couldn’t remember how to make a phone call. Did I first have to press the Call button? Or did I dial the number first? And what was Eunhui’s phone number? I remember there being a simpler way to do this.
I was frustrated. And annoyed. I threw the cell phone across the room.
I didn’t know what poetry was, so I wrote honestly about the process of murder. My first poem, was it called “Knife and Bones”? The instructor remarked that my use of language was fresh. He said that its raw quality and the perceptive way I imagined death depicted the futility of life. He repeatedly praised my use of metaphors.
I asked, “What’s a metaphor?”
The instructor grinned—I didn’t like that smile—and explained “metaphor” to me. So a metaphor was a figure of speech.
Listen, sorry to let you down, but that wasn’t a figure of speech.
I grabbed a copy of the Heart Sutra and began reading:
So, in the emptiness, no form,
No feeling, thought, or choice,
Nor is there consciousness.
No eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind.
No color, sound, smell, taste, touch,
Or what the mind takes hold of,
Nor even act of sensing.
No ignorance or end of it,
Nor all that comes of ignorance.
No withering, no death,
No end of them.
Nor is there pain, or cause of pain,
Or cease in pain, or noble path
To lead from pain.
Not even wisdom to attain!
The instructor asked me, “So you really haven’t studied poetry before?”
"This is celebrated Korean writer Young-ha Kim’s first story collection to be translated into English, and it is filled with the kind of sublime, galvanizing stories that strike like a lightning bolt, searing your nerves. The titular novella follows a reformed serial killer who has given himself one more target—a man who is set to murder his daughter. The stakes of the other stories aren’t any lower and involve kidnappings and affairs, trauma and transcendence. It’s easy enough to see why Kim has won every Korean literature award and is acclaimed as the best writer of his generation; pick up this book and find out for yourself."
—NYLON, "50 Books You'll Want to Read in 2019"
“Kim is expert at finding the humanity inside the other, the comedy inside the tragedy, and the twisted within the seemingly normal. In his short story collection Diary of A Murder, the titular novella guides us through the deteriorating mind of a serial killer as he tries to save his daughter from becoming victim to another killer in town before he succumbs to Alzheimer’s, while subsequent short stories showcasing an O. Henry-level irony mixed with an Italo Calvino style of humanism.”
—CrimeReads, "The Most Anticipated Crime Books of 2019"
"The premise of a skilled, aging murderer unable to trust his own memories is a quirky spin on the moral quagmires that criminal antiheroes usually face...Kim’s use of pastiche—diary entries, jotted-down notes, snippets from a recorder Byeongsu wears around his neck—to re-create Byeongsu’s interactions with his dementia draws readers deeply into the protagonist’s voice. This peripatetic self-awareness, patchworked together through his disease, makes him a compelling narrator...Kim manages to blindside even wary readers with a twist that recognizes the worst of Byeongsu’s fears about losing control...As he drifts in and out of his memories, readers’ various interpretations of the truth will act as a Rorschach test—assessing the limits of their faith in him. But Kim asks, compellingly, why readers might be so eager to believe him in the first place."
—Alana Mohamed, The Atlantic
"A wild entertaining read from the South Korean writer. In his prime, former serial killer Byeongsu mastered his art: he was one of the best murderers around, spending years obsessively trying to perfect his technique. And then he gave it all up to be a dedicated father to his adopted-daughter, Eunhui. Now though, suffering from dementia, he decides to come out of retirement one last time for his final target: his daughter’s boyfriend, who he suspects is also a serial killer. In other stories, an affair between two childhood friends question the limits of loyalty and love. Meanwhile, a family disintegrates after a baby son is kidnapped and recovered years later."
—Cosmopolitan (UK), "49 new books by black and POC authors you’ll be reading in 2020"
“Diary of a Murderer and Other Stories is a brilliant collection of short stories that run the gamut from intense thrillers to introspective reflections on pain...[A] visceral gut punch...Young-ha Kim is exceedingly good at distorting reality and telling stories about how meaningless reality truly is. This is everyday surrealism with a sharp edge. In this collection, serial killers are sympathetic and traumatized children are spoiled brats who heartlessly traumatize two generations, one older and one younger. As bleak as this collection is, a bright ray of light shines through. That ray is called 'talent,' and Young-ha Kim is an author who deserves to be very famous."
—New York Journal of Books
"A breath of fresh air."
—Amazon Book Review
"In the title novella of the collection, an elderly man considers coming out of retirement for one last job to save his daughter from the fiancé he believes wants to murder her. He’s not a retired detective or a bodyguard, though; he’s a former serial killer. The last story, 'The Writer,' opens with an anecdote about a man who is convinced he is a corncob. Needless to say, I’m already beguiled."
—Huffington Post, "61 Books We’re Looking Forward To Reading In 2019"
"The first story collection by this celebrated South Korean author to be translated into English tackles the fragility of our narratives as death and loss intercede. Darkly humorous, particularly the titular serial killer battling dementia."
—AM New York, "New novels to read in 2019"
"These tales of obsession reverberate with the hard, cool, and dryly comic voice of one of South Korea's most versatile writers . . . Creeping anxiety and Kafkaesque humor meld in [the] deceptively intricate novella...The other three stories retain the first one's chilliness (sustained nicely with help from Lee's translation) . . . A lively, enthralling introduction to [Kim's] eclectic artistry."
"Kim delicately weaves philosophical debates on the nature of happiness andmorality into his characters’ inner narrations. Both jarring and atmospheric, this is a cerebrally satisfyingcollection."
"This dark, innovative story collection from Kim is rife with grim plots and unreliable narrators . . . The best stories are engrossing and disturbing, and are excellent showcases of Kim’s talent.."
"Spiky, quirky reading for all short story fans, whether of literary or pop bent."
"Explosive stories in which fathers are serial killers, the kidnapped find their way back home and more."
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