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Two men, one rich and important, the other a listless writer, share some pot and have a conversation that quickly turns chilling: The former confesses a secret hobby of burning abandoned greenhouses to the ground, every couple of months, just because he can. Is he being metaphorical, or literal, or simply lying? The writer tries to figure it out, but never quite does, leaving it to the reader to puzzle out the more troubling implications.
In Burning , the disaffected writer is Lee Jong-su Yoo Ah-in , a young man performing odd jobs in Seoul while professing a vague desire to become a novelist. He lives in a rural area outside the capital, at a dilapidated farm owned by his father who is currently in jail , close enough to the North Korean border that he can hear propaganda broadcasts wafting over the radio.
Indeed, Ben does seem to represent a wave of gentrification that Burning takes more than a few glancing shots at. He throws dinner parties dominated by meaningless small talk, drives a Porsche, and is almost frighteningly dispassionate, offering little more than curt nods and polite smiles in conversation.
Ben gives the audience very little, and yet has it hanging on to his every word. Slowly, Burning morphs from being a tone poem of existential, youthful despair into a mystery thriller of sorts, as the love triangle among Jong-su, Hae-mi, and Ben begins to curdle. Lee has no compunction about digging into the obvious shortcomings of his male leads, but Burning could still come off as truly uncomfortable if Hae-mi, the woman at the center of this power struggle, were less well defined.
If the men in this movie are given to nihilism, Hae-mi is on a constant search for meaning, tearfully describing her fears at the drop of a hat and bewitching or sometimes scaring her companions with her willingness to emote. We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters theatlantic. Skip to content. Sign in My Account Subscribe. The Atlantic Crossword. The Print Edition. Latest Issue Past Issues.
David Sims is a staff writer at The Atlantic , where he covers culture. Connect Twitter.
Andrea Lee Reads Haruki Murakami
The stories were written between and ,  and published in Japan in various magazines, then collections. The contents of this compilation were selected by Gary Fisketjon Murakami's editor at Knopf and first published in English translation in its Japanese counterpart was released later in Stylistically and thematically, the collection aligns with Murakami's previous work. The stories mesh normality with surrealism, and focus on painful issues involving loss, destruction, confusion and loneliness. The title for the book is derived from the final story in the collection. After being disturbed by a strange phone-call from an unknown woman demanding ten minutes of his time, a man goes in search of his wife's missing cat and meets a girl in a neighbor's garden. A recently-married couple in their late twenties lie in bed, famished; they have little in their refrigerator: a six-pack of beer and some cookies.
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