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Photo Shop Murder [Paperback]

Young-Ha Kim

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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 1995. Since then, he has gained a reputation as the most talented and prolific Korean writer of his generation, publishing five novels and three 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.

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 10 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 eight 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 in 2009.

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.


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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Super noirish title story and modernist-absurd second story 17 Oct 2012
By Charles C. Montgomery - Published on Amazon.com
Kim Young-ha is a great gateway to Korean literature because his topics and style are extremely international. While his stories often take place in Korea and include Korean cultural references and tropes no particular knowledge of Korean society or history is necessary to understanding them (His just about to be published BLACK FLOWER is a bit different in that way). The book PHOTO SHOP MURDER contains the stories "Photo Shop Murder "and "Whatever Happened To The Guy InThe Elevator." Kim's work is existential and Kafka-esque, while also quickly told and efficiently plotted.

"Photo Shop Murder " is a noirish detective story. It begins, of course, with a corpse and his (now) widow who may be a murderer, but certainly invokes feelings from the detective. Other characters include a lover with a baseball bat, the detective's wife and a strange character who has seduced the wife with a cleverly deployed series of photographs. The detective is an alienated man, partially because he has caught his own wife in flagrante delicto, a scene that is revealed in flashback and features a brilliant image of soiled sheets and their washing.

The style and translation are outstanding - Author Kim and translator Jason Rhodes do an excellent job of reproducing the flat, semi-documentary style that westerners associate with Humphrey Bogart or James Rockford. The first line of the story is the deadpan, "Why do murders always seem to happen on Sundays?" The tone is consistent throughout with the narrator snapping semi-wise, even to himself, as in his observation that murder investigations are better than other crimes because, "With murder, at least one side was quiet."

"Photo Shop Murder "ends with the crime resolved, but nothing else, and the detective returns to his unhappy home, where memories overwhelm him and he is semi-accidentally injured by his wife. The story ends with a stark image: "I fell asleep. In my dream, I'd become a fruit, and my wife was peeling my skin. It was a happy dream."

"Whatever Happened To the Guy Stuck in the Elevator" is an absurdist look at day in which everything goes wrong: People reveal themselves to be self-centered, and technology reveals itself to be untrustworthy. The single businessman who narrates, begins his day by breaking his razor, and things continue to go wrong from there. On his way out of the building he is forced to use the stairs because the elevator is stalled. On the 5th floor he finds the reason, a man is stuck (and perhaps hurt or dying) in the elevator door. The rest of the story focuses on the man's attempts to notify someone about the man in the elevator and his continually unraveling day. There is an amusing set piece in which the businessman gives an `important' presentation to his colleagues; an argument for increasing toilet-paper efficiency. Predictably, the presentation does not go as he expects. As in "Photo Shop Murder," the story ends, the plot concludes, but the message that nothing is ever really resolved.

Together, these two works are an amusing but somewhat depressing portrait of a disconnected society and the absurdity of modern life.
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