Born in 1968, Kim Young-ha kicked off his writing career with his first novel I have the right to destroy myself, which won him the much-coveted Munhak-dongne prize in 1996. Since then, he has gained a reputation as the most talented and prolific Korean writer of his generation, publishing five novels and four collections of short stories.
Kim’s novels and stories focus on articulating a new mode of sensitivity to life’s thrills and horrors as experienced by Koreans in the ever-changing context of a modern, globalized culture. In his search for a literary style, as is often the case with internationally renowned post-modern novelists, Kim attempts to embark on exhilarating and provoking crossing of the boundaries of high and low genres of narratives. His historical novel Black Flower tells the story of the first generation of the Korean diaspora forced into slave labor in a Mexican plantation and later involved in a Pancho Villa-led military uprising in a style. Sources of inspiration for this novel came from classical Bildungsroman, stories of sea trips as illustrated by the popular film Titanic, ethnography of religion, as well as Korean histories of exile and immigration. Another instance of Kim’s fabulously mixed style is found in The Empire of Light, his fourth novel, in which he raises the question of human identity in a democratic and consumerist Korean society by presenting a North Korean spy and his family in Seoul in the manner of a crime fiction combined with a truncated family saga and naturalist depiction of everyday life. This novel was published in the United States in 2010 under a different title: Your Republic Is Calling You.
Each of Kim’s novels has received acclaims from both critics and readers alike, and most have earned him major awards. In 2004―his “grand slam” year―he won three of the most prestigious literary prizes in Korea. With some 20 of his novels and stories being translated into more than a dozen languages, he has begun to be recognized by critics overseas as well as in his country as representative of a literary breakthrough that occurred in the wake of democratization and post-industrialization in South Korea.
Kim began to earn his international recognition with a French translation of his first novel, I have the right to destroy myself, which was published by Philippe Picquier in February 1998; the novel is set to be published in nine other languages, including English and German. A French version of The Empire of Light came out early in 2009 and gained favorable attention from such leading newspapers as Le Monde and Liberation.
As a young Korean master of storytelling, Kim is especially popular with Korean film directors, who have found in his works to be a repository of plots and characters that make for superb film-making. Two films have already been based on his fiction, and the cinematic adaptation of The Empire of Light is currently in progress. His latest novel, The Quiz Show, was also made into a musical.
Kim previously worked as a professor in the Drama School at Korean National University of Arts and on a regular basis hosted a book-themed radio program. In autumn 2008, he resigned all his jobs to devote himself exclusively to writing. He and his wife currently live in New York, USA.