STARRED REVIEW
February 2021

My Brilliant Life

By Ae-ran Kim, translated by Chi-Young Kim
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.
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Areum’s parents were 16 when he was born. Now they are 32, and Areum is 16, but it is he who is confronting old age. He has a rare syndrome called progeria, which makes him age roughly eight times faster than the average child, so he is a teenager in the body of an 80-year-old. As a gift to his parents, he decides to write down the stories they’ve told him over the years. He hopes to finish before his 17th birthday, which will likely be his last.

Areum struggles with self-doubt as he writes, even scrapping an early iteration of the project before he gains the inspiration to write again. This inspiration comes from a pen pal, and Areum, stuck in the hospital for the rest of his life, develops a crush. He wants to experience life like a “normal” kid, even saying that he wants to make mistakes and be disappointed, because other kids get those opportunities. But Areum’s reality is that while he develops this relationship, he also deals with arthritis and begins going blind.

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. Areum’s parents are children when he is born, and they are in their early 30s when he dies. His existence in their lives caused them to grow up quickly, and even more so when he developed special needs. The presence of a neighborly father and son, both elderly, serves as a constant reminder that Areum will not have the chance to take care of his parents when they are old.

Translated into English by Chi-Young Kim, My Brilliant Life is 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.

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My Brilliant Life

My Brilliant Life

By Ae-ran Kim
Forge
ISBN 9781250750556

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