Readers learn some simple truths about Areum from the get-go: he has an uncanny way with words, he loves his parents deeply, and he doesn’t have much time left. But don’t be fooled; this story is not about the sick, nor is it about overcoming suffering. This quirky, bighearted book crackles with life on every page ... a bildungsroman in fast-forward. We enter Areum’s life on the cusp of his final act—and, incidentally, at the age that his own young parents had him. What ensues is a tale that is tender and funny, startling and sad ... Kim’s style is ambitious, playful, and cinematic. Beyond the actual scenes with the cameras, production crews, and the final airing of the episode, the storytelling devices reflect the same visuality. Scenes throughout the book cut from one moment to the next, crisp and vivid, jarring in their immediacy. Kim uses soundbites of dialogue here, a flash of color and memory there, a sudden closeup, and then an aerial view in a languishing backstory. Here, we really experience Kim’s humor and mastery of the short form.
Author Ae-ran Kim considers age versus maturity in My Brilliant Life , which was originally published with the title My Palpitating Life in South Korea in 2011 and then adapted into a film in 2014 ... told in poetic, succinct vignettes, ranging from the stories that Areum writes for his parents to narrations of his present. The text never teeters into gawking over Areum’s ailments, and he remains fixed as a curious, emotionally adept protagonist trying to navigate the awkwardness of being a teenager ... Areum’s reckoning with his fate makes for a wrenching story. This slim book has so much heart, packing quite an emotional investment into its 208 pages. As fleeting as Areum’s fictional life may be, he will not be a character easily forgotten.
Ae-ran Kim's My Brilliant Life explores family bonds and out-of-the-ordinary friendships, interweaving the past and present of a tight-knit family, finding joy and happiness in even the most difficult times ... Through it all, Areum and his family will have you laughing and crying, for all the right reasons.
... elegantly translated ... Areum tells his story with wry humor, showing great curiosity about himself as well as the people around him, starting with his parents ... The narrator writes a book within the book, so that My Brilliant Life turns out to be the story of Areum telling the story of his parents. Separately, he includes an account of his deeply private affection for a girl his own age. Kim develops this structure naturally, without fanfare. It is not clear until the end whether Areum is telling his parents' story as a way to understand himself and his origins better, to evade his predicament, to create a substitute for his absent social life, or some combination of the three. Only after completing the novel is it apparent how masterfully the book is woven together ... The book feels like a seed, using the metaphor of disease and tragedy to sow a discussion of the importance of compassion. English language readers, most new to Kim’s work, will find much to relish.
My Brilliant Life, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim, is an achingly beautiful story of a boy forced to come to terms with aging and death far earlier than any child should. More than that, though, it is that boy's attempts to share all that he has learned, all that he wants the world to know ... Kim's novel so perfectly captures the voice and sense of longing in young Areum that it is easy to forget that My Brilliant Life is a work of fiction. As Areum and his thoughts and feelings and family come to life on its pages, the novel delivers an important reminder that life is truly what one makes of it--even if, and sometimes especially when, that life is cut too short.
This quiet novel profoundly moved me and is not to be missed ... Kim allows us to dig deeply into her characters’ psyches, showing us the flaws of each, but also highlighting the love that binds these people together ... As the novel continues, [...] the complexity of Areum’s response to his disease becomes plain, and the novel’s emotional heft continues to build ... My Brilliant Life heralds an equally brilliant voice in fiction. Kim’s portrayal is at once complex and compassionate ... This life-affirming novel, which reminds us above all of the human capacity to love one another, is sure to stay with you well after the final page is turned.
The youngest winner ever of multiple important literary prizes in her native Korea, Ae-ran Kim’s first full-length novel arrives stateside, hauntingly English-enabled by lauded translator Chi-Young Kim ... In a narrative about fatal illness, compounding moments of insight and joy resonate deeply, with heartwarming results.