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.
... 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.