cover image Autobiography of Death

Autobiography of Death

Kim Hyesoon, trans. from the Korean by Don Mee Choi. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2734-6

Questions of the agency and effects of death, in both individual and mass tragedies, are central to this extraordinary collective elegy from Kim (All the Garbage of the World, Unite!). “The only thing you can give birth to yourself is, your death,” Kim writes in the book’s major component, a sequence of 49 poems—one for each of the 49 days the dead wander before reincarnation. The dead here frequently attempt to go about their former lives in a moving juxtaposition of the mundane and the terrible: “Will I get to work on time? You head toward the life you won’t be living.” Kim’s collective you moves in and out of particular circumstances, chronicling loss with surprisingly delicate observations, as when she writes, “Woman, you’re dead/ Water your shadow and your grave blooms.” A long poem, “Face of Rhythm,” serves as the book’s second part as well as a kind of coda, offering a meditation on the endurable limits of a life that works in counterpoint to the bardo of the earlier poems. This is Choi’s sixth masterly translation of Kim, and it fully reveals the startling architecture Kim develops to display structural horrors, individual loss, and the links between them. (Nov.)