The condition known as Progeria is relatively well known in concept, the long-standing difficulties and medical knowledge overall will not add a great deal to the book, although one or two items will become clear to the reader if they understand the symptoms of various conditions traditionally associated with old age.
As with almost any first-person narrative, the story hangs closely upon its lead character. For My Brilliant Life that is Aerum, who finds that he is turning 16 and reflecting back upon his short years even as his body faces the premature ravages of time. He has a best friend who is a very old man that lives with his significantly older father. There is an awareness in the household that money is extremely tight, and his parents try to hide problems from him like so many parents do. Aerum request a laptop for his 16th birthday, secretly hoping to write something to give to his parents on his 17th.
He finds heartbreak and confusion in different parts of his life, and his reactions are not necessarily that of a typical teenager or a typical old man, but always feel remarkably human. The little things that bring him joy range from popular culture to thoughtful volumes of poetry, further allowing readers to see a strange melancholy timelessness to someone so short on years.
It is interesting that a South Korean narrative should parallel the problems of American healthcare so accurately, with a particular concern coming in the form of desperation. Aerum’s family is in desperate financial straits much of the time, in spite of having worked hard to establish themselves after the early pregnancy that led to his birth. In order to be closer to a hospital that can handle his issues, the father sold his burgeoning shop, and has worked a series of different jobs over the following decade and a half in an effort to make enough to keep his child as healthy as possible.
There is little sign of resentment, though attempts to keep dignity remain high amd cause a few moments of friction. Aerum finds himself chatting online with a new friend in what seems to be a new avenue for his life, while his parents fail to .
Categorizing this volume as a coming-of-age story would be an odd decision, and yet there are certain parallels. Treating it as a volume of lessons someone learns as they and grow old is obviously inadequate as well.
Ae-Ran Kim is a known quality as an author, however this first novel marks her as a skilled novelist as well. The literary community has greatly look forward to future work by this woman, as she manages to pull universal human experience from relatively niche aspects of the world. My Brilliant Life is a pretty easy volume to recommend, perhaps not for someone in the grips of a depressive episode, but for a reader who needs something that explorers and its own strange way affirms the human condition.