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I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki: The cult hit everyone is talking about

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starting this part "memoir" and part "self-help" book that will hopefully make me cry and feel revitalised. Hur has once again done an excellent job on the translation, bringing across a voice very different from the other translations of his I’ve read this year. I was angry at myself for not being different, not being better… All in all, I believe everyone could enjoy this book and might even benefit from reading about such a private part of someone’s life. There was something about the title and cover of this book that brought to mind Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation and a line from Madame Bovary: ‘She wanted both to die and to live in Paris’.

Therapy, especially when this was originally published, is not something that’s considered normal in South Korea. It takes a lot of courage to bare one's internal struggles and deepest darkest secrets to the world, so I always hesitate before giving low ratings to books like this.

I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokpokki is a book originally written in Korean, about a woman diagnosed with dysthymia. Born in 1990, Baek Seheestudied creative writing in university before working for five years at a publishing house. I WANT TO DIE BUT I WANT TO EAT TTEOKBOKKI has a fantastic, catchy title, which was what originally gravitated me towards this book. It is virtually impossible for everyone to agree on any one perspective/topic, let alone one that’s so personal to the author. But if she's so hopeless, why can she always summon a yen for her favorite street food: the hot, spicy rice cake, tteokbokki?

I just appreciate how real and messy this book explains life, it really embraces the complexity of mental health and self perception. We feel we are a party to a sacred realm and find ourselves drawn to her testimony; mesmerized by her ability to keep thwarting herself from getting better. Psychiatrist’s statements like: “We drink precisely to get drunk but now you’re envious of people who drink and don’t get drunk” or inquiring with an only slightly hidden shock why the author gained five kilos (“Really? It’s not just a story; it’s like peeking into someone’s personal diary, where they pour out their heart and soul.

This is a brief read though because of its format, as it’s literally just conversations with the author’s therapist. For those who may not relate at all, this book gives such beautiful and raw insight into how we think, what we think, and most of all, how much we are trying to be better for ourselves and for those around us. There are so many personal details and the author’s willingness to share her thoughts and experiences, even if they portray her in a negative light, gives such an intimacy within the book. Which is why I go looking for someone else, and ultimately why I think someone liking me cannot in itself satisfy me. She feels persistently low, anxious, endlessly self-doubting, but also highly judgemental of others.

But if you’re someone who thinks that Sarah Kane’s work is too ‘heavy’, maybe Baek is just right for you. Sure, the content isn’t that easy at certain moments, especially if you’re someone who also struggles with mental health and depression throughout your lifetime. The author’s statements and expressions of emotions resembled those of some of my students and it was interesting to see how her psychiatrist addressed her issues. But if she's so hopeless, why can she always summon a desire for her favorite street food: the hot, spicy rice cake, tteokbokki?

The early conversations are about how she sees herself having a lot less energy than usual, and doubting what she’s doing everyday. Highly recommend this book to anyone struggling with their mental health or who knows someone who is and want to understand them better. despite the issues i have with the book, i still would recommend readers give it a try because this honestly felt like free therapy to me.

Update: Forgot to put this in my review originally but one other thing I appreciated about this book is that the author is outspoken about her feelings about mental health and it's my understanding that a lot of Asian cultures tend to frown on this, so having such a visible figure doing this in an open way and receiving support is great.Though issues involving mental health continue to be stigmatized, Baek is clear in her belief that her story could help those in similar circumstances. I had prayed for 2020 to start of well for me, but alas, January did not end as the best time for me.

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