Online Edition: Spring 2008

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 The City in Crimson Cloak

 Asli Erdogan

 translated by Amy Spangler

 Soft Skull Press ($14.95)

 I Have the Right
 to Destroy Myself

 Young-Ha Kim

 Translated by Chi-Young Kim

 Harcourt ($12)

 by Alan DeNiro

Two novels recently published in America—though originally published in Turkey in 1998 and South Korea in 1996, respectively—cast twin lights onto unsettling storytelling obsessions. In The City in Crimson Cloak, the narrator Özgür writes through her time in Rio de Janeiro, with a cavalcade of jagged images not capturing the city so much as being carried by it in a strong wind; she is almost always broke, and though she is embedded in the city, she is also outside of it. In I Have the Right to Destroy Myself, the narrator is also a writer, but he writes down the stories of his clients—clients who pay him to kill them in highly stylized fashion.

In both of these slender books, writing a book is the final word for the protagonist, even when it's clear their cities will go on without them when their stories are finished. Death is indelibly linked to writing—as evidenced by the obsession the narrator of Kim's novel has with David's painting, Death of Marat ("An artist's passion shouldn't create passion," he notes early on). And yet both narrators also look outward, painstakingly observing the chaos and decay around them—and strangers to themselves no matter where they are. Özgür finds little solace in her homeland, as demonstrated by her curt calls back home and her equally disinterested mother, who confuses the constant gunfire on the line for fireworks. Food, loveless sex, football—these pleasures grip the populaces, but in the soap bubble of these novels-within-novels, the decade of the ’90s itself floats in front of our view and pops.

While both cities are dangerous, Rio happens to wear its menace more on its sleeves. In the Seoul of Kim's novel, the danger comes from blinding snowstorms, bullet taxis, and private, orchestrated suicides. It would be too easy, however, to say that these types of perils are markedly different from each other—that the cities somehow distill violence in way that are part of a nationalistic make-up. Instead, the urban danger addressed in these novels is more of a product of social class than nationality. The narrator in I Have the Right to Destroy Myself tries to lure clients that are able to pay exorbitant fees, preying on people in their moments of weakness. Those whom Özgür encounters in The City in Crimson Cloak also seduce themselves into self-destruction. In both cities, citizens have confused violence as being an exercise of free will, rather than the illusion of its very existence.

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