Diary of a Murderer by Young-Ha Kim is a collection of short stories of dark undertones of sadness, regret, and death. This work was translated from Korean to English by Krys Lee.
It’s been twenty-five years since I last murdered someone, or has it been twenty-six?
Diary of a Murderer captivates and provokes in equal measure, exploring what it means to be on the edge—between life and death, good and evil. In the titular novella, a former serial killer suffering from memory loss sets his sights on one final target: his daughter’s boyfriend, who he suspects is also a serial killer. In other stories we witness an affair between two childhood friends that questions the limits of loyalty and love; a family’s disintegration after a baby son is kidnapped and recovered years later; and a wild, erotic ride about pursuing creativity at the expense of everything else.
I was drawn into each of these stories that Kim has written because the characters and the settings were so on-point. I definitely believe the titular story is the strongest of the four included in this collection. There’s something oddly endearing about this serial killer with dementia trying to save his daughter from another serial killer. And that’s the think – no one wants to be on the side of the serial killer! And yet Kim writes him into a story where the reader inexplicably does find themselves rooting for the serial killer to save his daughter. The twist in this story was crazy and I really enjoyed how the story’s ambiguity due to the narrator’s memory loss made it difficult to make sense of his world, which reflects his own struggles brilliantly! It was such a good story.
I think the other stories were okay. I don’t think I found myself as drawn to them as the first one. They each had interesting points, but I don’t think the plots of each of these were as strong as the first one. The characters didn’t stand out to me as much, weren’t as memorable, and didn’t evoke the same empathy as the characters in the first. Which is why I didn’t rate this book higher than I did. As far as stories go, they are each well written, but with only the first story being compelling, I can’t really rave too much about the book as a whole.
Literary Value: 4/5
I liked Kim’s style of writing – or, at least, I enjoyed Lee’s translation of it. If it’s any indication of Kim’s actual writing, then it’s definitely appealing to me. Everything was written with a simplicity and gentleness. I found the setting descriptions to be very vivid and clear. Especially with the first book, I found the plot pacing to be just right. The character’s memory loss slowly got worse over time and you could really see that reflected in each successive diary entry. I thought it was really well put together.
I also enjoyed the study of human nature that Kim explored within each story. It was a look at humanity from several different angles and it was not always a flattering portrait. I felt that each of the stories reflected the moral gray area that humans, as a whole, suffer from. Many actions are weighed in light of a moral scale, but what actions should we consider to outweigh others? No one character in any of the stories shone forth with moral purity, which is understandable because we’re human!
The stories were also just dark enough without making the reader feel really hopeless. There is sadness in each, anger in each, and death in each, but even when these emotions are piling up, they never tip over into tragedy or complete darkness. There’s always an easing up that leaves the reader room, still, to enjoy the journey they’ve just taken.
Entertainment Factor: 3/5
I didn’t love, nor hate, any of these stories. As I said before, the first and titular story was my favorite. I enjoyed reading each story because the writing was solid and the characters were interesting enough to hold my attention. I think the story plots were enough to keep me compelled to read more and this book only took me a few days to read, which is pretty good in my book. I don’t really feel compelled to read any of these stories again, but that’s okay. Not every book can completely wow me. I enjoyed my time with the book enough to wand to finish it.
Cover Art: 4/5
I really like this cover. It’s so vividly bright red! Totally eye-catching. I also like the subtly of the redacted words. This imagery clearly reflects the memory loss of the titular story’s character. I think, visually, it’s really appealing and it definitely made me want to read this book, so hats off to the cover artist! I also like the slash-like look of the title and author fonts and how that’s juxtaposed with the straightforward typed style of the “and other stories” bit. It’s a neat, clean cover and it was definitely one of the reasons I decided to pick this book up!
Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Bamboo Shoots
I definitely enjoyed reading this book, but I wouldn’t say it was my favorite thing by any means. I thought each story worked well in this collection, but the first and titular story was by far the best and most interesting of the bunch. I thought the characters and construction of that story were really compelling and had the most interest to me. But overall, I think Kim’s writing is really good here and it’s definitely worth reading if you like darker stories, especially those that deal with grief or murder. I know that’s an interesting combo, but these themes run throughout the stories in this book. So, to sum up, I would recommend this book, but I’m not going to go out of my way to.
Thoughts & Thanks
Thank you so much for reading my review! I hope I’ve helped aid you in your decision to read this book. If you have read it or if you’re thinking about reading it, let me know what you thought in the comments! And as always, happy reading!