Diary of a Murderer and Other Stories by Young-Ha Kim, translated by Krys Lee

Story-by-Story Notes

Diary of a Murderer

It has been decades since Kim Byeongsu has killed anyone. This, he tells us, is not because of remorse but because he ceased to believe he could better himself.

Now Byeongsu is in his seventies and suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease which affects him more as the story goes on. With reports of a new serial killer in the area he begins to worry that his daughter will become the killer’s target and decides he must act before he loses his ability to do so.

I was impressed with this story, both in its exploration of a killer’s mentality but also in the way it portrays what it must be like to have Alzheimer’s. Byeongsu struggles throughout the story to keep his thoughts in order or to remember why he was doing the things he began to do. It is more of a character study of how having Alzheimer’s Disease could affect a serial killer rather than a mystery story (although the reader does still need to use their critical reasoning skills to understand what is happening when Byeongsu does not).

The story is intentionally confusing with our lack of understanding often mimicking Byeongsu’s own confused state. I think though the place that it ends up is certainly interesting though and makes for a rewarding conclusion.

The Origin of Life

Seojin and Ina reunite decades after they first met as children. They form a connection causing Ina to despair about the direction that her life has gone. Seojin soon realizes that Ina’s husband is abusive and struggles with the question of what they should do.

While this story features several instances of crime, it is not the primary focus. There are a few interesting story points and surprises though and I thought Seojin’s journey, while not always sympathetic, was pretty interesting.

Missing Child

Married couple Yunseok and Mira lose their three-year-old son Seongmin during a trip to the grocery store. The story chronicles the circumstances of the child’s abduction and the way the lives of all three are affected by those few moments of distraction.

Once again this is not a mystery but the story of a crime. I think any parent could relate to the tremendous fear of losing a child and I thought the author did a phenomenal job of exploring the various feelings such an event may provoke in thoughtful and sometimes unexpected ways.

The Writer

The final story in the collection is told from the perspective of a writer who has failed to deliver his manuscript after receiving an advance. The publisher sends his ex-wife who works as an editor for the company to persuade him to deliver the manuscript.

This story is about the act of creation and the relationship between that creativity and commerce. It is not a genre piece at all (which is obviously fine – just outside the usual subject matter of this blog) although there are some references to criminality and the piece does have a certain noir-ish outlook.

Of the four stories I found it to be the least compelling, although it does have a few points of interest – particularly in relation to a conflict towards the end of the piece. I do tend to find writers discussing their industry to be a little too self-referential and a few of the developments struck me as pretty silly.

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