´I´ve thought in extremes for so long that I keep forgetting to think otherwise´.
Let´s start with the delicious part: I have a love and hate relationship with Korean food, but I mostly avoid it but I am also curious about trying new foods - within some limits. Reading about food and food histories interests me always but like a language, food is the best to be tried in its everyday environment. I don´t remember to have ever encouter any mention of tteokbokki in my short visits to Korean restaurants in Europe/Germany. Shortly, they are hot and spicy rice cakes, a popular street food dish in Korea. A short Google search revealed that in fact there are a few restaurants in Berlin serving it so my next mission for the coming week is to have a taste of this dish.
If one is still curious about food, about enjoying something, than he or she has a chance to remain alive - at least until finishing the dish. But, in fact, you never know...
Baek Sehee, the author of the short yet insightful memoir I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki, was at first hand diagnosed with dypthymia, a persistent depressive disorder. Labels are in most cases very problematic in psychological practice, unless there are clear extrem classified symptoms like schizophrenia. The everyday depression though may mislead and trick on classifications and the testimony of the author´s therapist is a testimony of how limited science is in dealing properly with the challenges of the brain.
Sehee is a successful social media director at a publishing house, has relationships, a degree, an average salary still unhappy. She is looking at herself through the eyes of the others: colleagues, passants, former school mates. Practically everyone. Like a flower in the wind, she is moving violently back and forth, in the hidden chambers of her mind. There is darkness and medication and doubts. A cycle of self-assumed failures and depression, a fear of attachment. She searches for self-esteem quizzes on the Internet, but most importantly, she is getting a therapist.
The book is mostly a collection of her recorded therapy sessions, plus a couple of short and beautifully written essays. ´I want to focus on the things that are changing and keep hoping´. Not everyone is going through bouts of depression and self-depreciation and I suspect that social pressure and family context force at a great extent the disbalance to manifest. Any traditional society - Korean or Middle Eastern or Eastern European - may ignore the wishes of individuals to write their own life stories. Often such projections belittle any individual who may consider the help of a therapist.
The testimonies of Bael Sehee are reminder of the hardship of surviving darkness every single moment. It´s a bet, worth a tteokbokki at least.
A special note to the seamless translation by Anton Hur, whom I discovered through one of my favorite collection of short stories of the decade. I don´t speak any word of Korean although I hope to be able to one day. But reading I Want to Die...I never felt any single moment the need to doubt the choice of a word or the structure of a sentence. All came to place seamlessly and beautifully. It´s highly probably that the original text is at least as beautifully written as the translation and I owe this conclusion to the faultless translation by Anton Hur.
Rating: 5 stars