cover image I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki: A Memoir

I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki: A Memoir

Baek Sehee, trans. from the Korean by Anton Hur. Bloomsbury, $24 (208p) ISBN 978-1-63557-938-3

In this candid if stilted debut, South Korean essayist Sehee documents the intensive therapy sessions that led her out of depression and anxiety. She starts from the first appointment she had with her psychiatrist, chronicling her struggles to find a medication that will ease her symptoms as she works, between sessions, to apply what she’s learning, challenging herself to be more socially engaged with others, whether it be through attending a movie club or negotiating difficult disagreements with friends. Though heartfelt, the forced neatness of Sehee’s diaristic installments feels unnatural when juxtaposed with the complicated interior life that she and her psychiatrist trawl for meaning. Sehee’s emotional recollections of growing up in an abusive household, struggling with self image, and turning to books as she learns to embrace solitude lose their potential poignancy when reconstructed in dialogue with her therapist: “ME: I’m also obsessive about my looks. There was a time I would never leave the house without make-up.... PSYCHIATRIST: It’s not your looks themselves that generate your obsessiveness.” As a result, profound subjects like the stigma of suicide are lost in the weeds of the monotonous stretches that surround references to them. Sehee’s mission to normalize conversation about mental illness is an admirable one, but this memoir fails to animate that goal. (Nov.)