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FICTION

Urbanites Swim Upstream: Nobody Knows What Happened by Kim Young-ha

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.10 Winter 2010
  • byJung Yeo-ul
Nobody Knows What Happened
2010
300pp.

Kim Young-ha is one of the best writers at depicting the modern urban lifestyle. Urban dwellers working at their cutting-edge jobs, their daily grind at work and secret pleasures in private, the dazzling entertainment available in the city, and how increasing efficiency at work only leads to ever-greater loneliness. Kim’s latest collection of short stories, Nobody Knows What Happened, showcases his talent in capturing the daily, inner lives of city dwellers.

Urbanites pretend that nothing is wrong on the surface, but their polished lifestyles are only a façade for monstrous secrets and desperation. The urban dwellers described in Kim Young-ha’s light yet probing style hide memories of pain and trauma as they masquerade as carefree, elegant urbanites. The man who thinks he is a robot; the woman attracted to the man who thinks he is a robot although she is having an affair with her boss; the corrupt policeman who cracks down on shoplifters, only to make a profit selling their loot; the man suddenly gifted with the most beautiful voice on Earth after his voice breaks; the man who continues to meet his ex-girlfriend once a year at the same hotel in Frankfurt for seven years; and the woman who uses her beautiful skin to get a job as a nurse at a dermatologist, only to contract a disease that leaves her face looking like “a botched pizza,” and then commits suicide.

Kim Young-ha’s stories are peopled by all the different types we bump into in our daily lives. They ignore each other at the price of ever-growing loneliness, ultimately failing to connect with each other. Their growing isolation and pain is portrayed in sharp relief in Kim’s writing. 

Author's Profile


The English editions of Kim Young-ha’s I Have the Right to Destroy MyselfYour Republic Is Calling You, and Black Flower were published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who will also publish his latest book in 2017. Kim was a resident writer at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2003, and a contributing op-ed writer for The New York Times from 2013 to 2014. His books have appeared in more than twelve languages.