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Award-winning author publishes new book inspired by life in Bali

Kim In-sook’s new novel talks of hope in extreme despair

Author Kim In-sook started her writing career early. She made her literary debut when she was barely a university student, at the age of 20.

Now 48, she has won Korea’s three major literary awards ― Yi Sang, Dong-in, and Daesan ― with more than 30 books published. But Kim says she still longs to write something different, something new.

“It’s like a ballad singer wanting to try hip-hop,” Kim said at a press meeting held in central Seoul, Tuesday. “I’m not so sure about my abilities. But I’d totally write a genre fiction or a romance novel. I am always up for changes.”
Kim In-sook poses at a press meeting in Seoul on Tuesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Kim In-sook poses at a press meeting in Seoul on Tuesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

And Kim’s new novel, “To Be Insane,” is the result of her love for the unknown. Filled with passion, madness and exotic danger, the book tells a story of Jin, a traumatized Korean woman who visits a nameless tropical island, in search of her husband who disappeared on the same island seven years ago.

Jin suffers from the memory of the day her husband, Yoo-jin, went missing. It happened the day she found out that Yoo-jin had made his young maid pregnant. When the young girl scoffed at Jin, Jin had grabbed a knife and tried to stab her. 
Kim’s new novel “To Be Insane.” (Hanibook)
Kim’s new novel “To Be Insane.” (Hanibook)

She does not remember what happened next, except for the fact that the girl died and Yoo-jin, whom she loved so deeply, left her for good.

With the help of her local guide Iyana and a spiritual guru, Jin tries to overcome the past while continuing to search for Yoo-jin ― until a ferocious earthquake and tsunami hits the island.

Kim, who also has lived in Australia and China, stayed in Bali, Indonesia, for four months to write this novel last year.

“I was particularly fascinated by the language of Bali,” Kim said. “The language has no tenses. They’d say, ‘It rains yesterday’ and ‘it rains tomorrow.’ I was curious about that and wanted to understand the lives of people that have developed and use such a language.”

Kim’s depiction of the giant natural disaster in the novel, which is a painful mix of death, horror and loss, overlaps with the traumatic events of Jin’s past. The two events act as metaphors for each other ― as life-changing experiences that need to be overcome while forever becoming a part of Jin.

Jin survives the tsunami with her guide Iyana, and the two eventually find out they were both related to the murder case seven years before. Jin soon faces up to the truth, while starting to remember what really happened on the day the young maid died. After witnessing countless deaths and losses together, Jin and Iyana start opening up to each other while somehow trying to continue to live their lives.

The book could have been published earlier this year, but Kim insisted on putting back the date after the powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March.

“I didn’t want to promote the book along with the real-life natural disaster,” Kim said. “I didn’t think that was right.”

The events in Japan also made Kim re-think the novel from a new perspective. “I wrote a book about an earthquake and this real earthquake happened,” she said. “I wondered how much understanding and empathy I had toward earthquakes (and their survivors).”

So what was the ultimate message of such an intense, poignant tale?

“It is hope,” Kim said. “I wanted to talk about what it is like to have hope and continue with your life after going through extremely painful situations that would almost drive you insane.”

By Claire Lee (
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Korea Herald daum