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Korea Blog: The Making of a Korean Monster in Kim Sagwa’s Bloody High-School Novel “Mina”

I often wonder why Korean kids almost never kill their parents. Not, of course, that I think Korean kids should kill their parents, but given all the stories one hears of the psychologically debilitating pressures faced by the youth in this country, and then how much of the time the agents of that pressure are the mother and father, one would think fatal lashings-out — deliberate or accidental — would be inevitable. The attempted explanations that come back when I wonder aloud about this are always flimsy: “Asians are socialized not to do things like that,” many have said, as if the children of other races were raised with explicit permission to to kill their parents. “They direct the violence inward,” others have said, which at least aligns with South Korea’s chilling youth suicide rate. And when they’re not killing themselves, Korean kids have, on occasion, been known to kill each other.

Youth-on-youth violence provides a subject for Kim Sagwa’s Mina (미나), a novel newly out in English translation by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton. (Those respected translators also brought into English Yoon Tae-ho’s comic series Mosspreviously featured here on the Korea Blog.) Now in her mid-thirties, Kim still counts as a more or less a young novelist, but she was even younger when the book, her first full-length novel, first came out in Korea a decade ago. Both Mina and the shorter-form work that preceded it won Kim accolades as a something of a voice of a generation in Korea, or at least the voice of a particularly disaffected generation in Korea, ineffectively educated and at best barely employed, given to enervated bouts of cursing and fulmination against society, often while drinking and smoking under legal age. Even in the hands of translators as long-established as the Fultons, the youth of the novel’s voice come through; imagine a twentysomething, female Thomas Bernhard directing her frustration and rage not against her small European country for its role in the Second World War, but against her small east Asian country for the rigidity and irrationality of its educational and economic class structure.

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.