TED.com Today’s Talk: Be an artist, right now!

TED.com picks KIM’s 2010 TEDxSeoul talk as Today’s Talk.


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Marilyn Monroe and Lady Gaga’s Korea, and Korean Literature


WORDS without BORDERS featured South Korean Literature and Kim wrote the introduction essay for the feature.


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Black Flower


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; (Oct. 30, 2012)




In 1904, as the Russo-Japanese War deepened, Asia was parceled out to rising powers and the Korean empire was annexed by Japan. Facing war and the loss of their nation, more than a thousand Koreans left their homes to seek possibility elsewhere—in unknown Mexico.

After a long sea voyage, these emigrants—thieves and royals, priests and soldiers, orphans and entire families—disembark with the promise of land. Soon they discover the truth: they have been sold into indentured servitude.Aboard ship, an orphan, Ijeong, fell in love with the daughter of a noble; separated when the various haciendados claim their laborers, he vows to find her. After years of working in the punishing heat of the henequen fields, the Koreans are caught in the midst of a Mexican revolution. Some flee with Ijeong to Guatemala, where they found a New Korea amid Mayan ruins. A tale of star-crossed love, political turmoil, and the dangers of seeking freedom in a new world, Black Flower is an epic story based on a little-known moment in history.


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“Sketchbook”, The New York Times

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A Kafkaesque Spy Thriller Straddles Two Koreas, NPR Fresh Air


When I was growing up, there was no more famous symbol of the Cold War than the Berlin Wall. But in fact, the Wall could never really compare to the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea. Still going strong after 57 years, it has created a parallel reality worthy of Philip K. Dick.


By now, most people know that North Korea may the strangest country on Earth — an Orwellian dystopia complete with starving citizens, nuclear weapons, a goofball dictator, and public displays seemingly choreographed by Busby Berkeley. But in the West, it’s less well-known that South Korea is a booming modern democracy with an infrastructure more advanced than our own. It’s also an outward-looking cultural player. Even as South Korea’s TV soaps dominate Asia, it also boasts one of the world’s most exciting movie cultures — it had five films at Cannes last May.


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Your Republic Is Calling You


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Mariner (Sep. 28, 2010)
A foreign film importer, Gi-yeong is a family man with a wife and daughter. An aficionado of Heineken, soccer, and sushi, he is also a North Korean spy who has been living among his enemies for twenty-one years.
Suddenly he receives a mysterious email, a directive seemingly from the home office. He has one day to return to headquarters. He hasn’t heard from anyone in over ten years. Why is he being called back now? Is this message really from Pyongyang? Is he returning to receive new orders or to be executed for a lack of diligence? Has someone in the South discovered his secret identity? Is this a trap?
Spanning the course of one day, Your Republic Is Calling You is an emotionally taut, psychologically astute, haunting novel that reveals the depth of one particularly gripping family secret and the way in which we sometimes never really know the people we love. Confronting moral questions on small and large scales, it mines the political and cultural transformations that have transformed South Korea since the 1980s. A lament for the fate of a certain kind of man and a certain kind of manhood, it is ultimately a searing study of the long and insidious effects of dividing a nation in two.


"What a ride! Young-ha Kim is clearly a writer to watch out for. Your Republic Is Calling Youpromises to be the breakout book from Korea. Through his compelling narration of events happening in a single day, he leads us into the heart and soul of modern Korea and tells us and what it means to be human in a world bristling with borders. I cannot praise it enough." —Vikas Swarup, author of Slumdog Millionaire

"Fueled by paranoia, Your Republic Is Calling You pulls you along like a thriller, yet Kim is after more than suspense. A keenly observant writer, he turns his story into an amusingly bleak X-ray of present-day South Korea that’s as interested in Bart Simpson as in Kim Jong Il. Along the way, we meet a huge array of sharply drawn social types" NPR Fresh Air

"[An] ambitious novel from one of Korea’s most admired writers . . . Energized by a powerful sense of the difficulty of ‘belonging’ in a dangerous place and time.  Perhaps the most intriguing and accomplished Korean fiction yet to appear in English translation." — Kirkus Reviews

"Deeply compelling . . .a riveting tale of espionage along with keen observations of human behavior." — Publishers Weekly




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I Have The Right to Destroy Myself



Harcourt; Tra edition (July 2, 2007)

In the fast-paced, high-urban landscape of Seoul, C and K are brothers who have fallen in love with the same woman—Se-yeon—who tears at both of them as they all try desperately to find real connection in an atomized world. A spectral, nameless narrator haunts the edges of their lives as he tells of his work helping the lost and hurting find escape through suicide. Dreamlike and beautiful, the South Korea brought forth in this novel is cinematic in its urgency and its reflection of contemporary life everywhere—far beyond the boundaries of the Korean peninsula.  Recalling the emotional tension of Milan Kundera and the existential anguish of Bret Easton Ellis, I Have the Right to Destroy Myself achieves its author’s greatest wish—to show Korean literature as part of an international tradition. Young-ha Kim is a young master, the leading literary voice of his generation.


"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." Los Angeles Times


"Kim’s deadpan, elliptical story is even more like the enigmatic love (?) stories of Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang, whose work must be watched as raptly as Kim’s must be read. Mesmerizing." Booklist


"Kim’s work is a self-conscious literary exploration of truth, death, desire and identity, and though it traffics in racy themes, it never devolves into base voyeurism." Publishers Weekly



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