Plas­tic sur­geon writes med­i­cal fic­tion nov­els

‘Some un­dergo plas­tic surgery to move on from past’

The Korea Times - - CULTURE - By Kang Hyun-kyung hkang@ko­re­atimes.co.kr

Af­ter the win­ter peak sea­son for cos­metic surgery, which usu­ally con­tin­ues for three months start­ing De­cem­ber, plas­tic sur­geon Kim You-myung tries to find time to im­merse him­self deep into his other pas­sion — fic­tion writ­ing.

Ev­ery week­end, Kim, 48, goes to his clinic in Gang­nam — an area of south­ern Seoul fa­mous for its cos­metic surgery clin­ics — and writes sto­ries.

He says he feels ul­ti­mate free­dom as there’s no one in his clinic ex­cept him. He likes the dis­tur­bance-free, peace­ful en­vi­ron­ment be­cause he feels iso­lated from bustling ur­ban life.

De­pend­ing on the day, he says he usu­ally writes for four to five hours. “The first week when I re­sume writ­ing af­ter a three-month hia­tus fol­low­ing the peak win­ter sea­son is kind of tough,” he said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view with The Korea Times. “I re­al­ized I for­got what I wrote pre­vi­ously. I look at my manuscript­s thor­oughly and then re­sume writ­ing.”

Kim said writ­ing in soli­tude gives him free­dom, of which the joy is so ful­fill­ing that he feels like his wounded soul is healed. “We can­not con­trol any­thing or ev­ery­thing in our lives. But in writ­ing, things are dif­fer­ent. We can make it what­ever or wher­ever we want,” he said.

De­but­ing as a nov­el­ist with the med­i­cal fic­tion novel “Anes­the­sia” in 2018, Kim re­cently re­leased his sec­ond novel, ti­tled “Face.” It tells the story of a 47-year-old plas­tic sur­geon P who makes an un­prece­dent­edly bold de­ci­sion to es­tab­lish the na­tion’s largest hos­pi­tal for cos­metic surgery. Heav­ily in debt, he teams up with a few fel­low plas­tic sur­geons to start the grandiose med­i­cal busi­ness in a 13-story build­ing. His busi­ness em­pire sees short-lived pros­per­ity be­fore it crashes.

“The pro­tag­o­nist is a timid, in­tro­verted man. He is prin­ci­pled. When a man like him tries to em­u­late what an out­go­ing per­son does such as run­ning a high-risk busi­ness, the sit­u­a­tion spins out of con­trol,” said the au­thor.

“We don’t need to waste time re­gret­ting the roads we didn’t take or try to take risks on things that are not suit­able for us. In­stead, we can look in­side our­selves, think about what we have and fo­cus on what we can do. Oth­er­wise, I’m afraid it’s go­ing to be too late. We could be late learn­ers re­al­iz­ing what made us happy is very near us, only af­ter spend­ing too much time in vain on dream­ing and im­ple­ment­ing some­thing big that makes ev­ery­one en­vi­ous.”

In ad­di­tion to the pro­tag­o­nist P’s failed ex­per­i­ment, “Face” un­rav­els the var­i­ous mo­tives of peo­ple who seek plas­tic surgery. The fate-al­ter­ing plas­tic surgery still dom­i­nates, but au­thor Kim ush­ers his read­ers to a lesser-known func­tion of cos­metic surgery — there are some who un­dergo surgery to move on from the past and live a new life. An ac­tress with per­fect looks vis­its the plas­tic sur­geon for cos­metic surgery that can fool fa­cial recog­ni­tion. She’s a vic­tim of re­venge pornog­ra­phy by her ex-boyfriend. A foul­mouthed mid­dle-aged TV show host seeks it to ex­tend his ca­reer. A secret agent whose face was ac­ci­den­tally dis­closed on TV footage is an­other of P’s clients seek­ing an ex­treme makeover.

Un­like other fic­tion nov­els crit­i­cal of plas­tic surgery, which of­ten link cos­metic surgery to ma­te­ri­al­ism in a so­ci­ety where peo­ple are judged by their looks, “Face” un­rav­els the other side of phys­i­cal at­trac­tive­ness — it comes at a price.

Kim said all suc­cess — whether it’s ma­te­rial suc­cess, fame, pop­u­lar­ity or some­thing else al­to­gether — has a cost.

“Peo­ple seek makeovers to suc­ceed in their lives. Once they suc­ceed, they be­lat­edly re­al­ize that strings are at­tached to their suc­cess. Their pri­vacy and free­dom were sac­ri­ficed to make it hap­pen,” he said. “They are try­ing to get them back. Many of us are not as suc­cess­ful as they are, so we just know a bit of suc­cess, while re­main­ing un­aware of the price we need to pay to get good looks.”

“Face” is a page turner. It gives read­ers an in­sider’s peek into how thriv­ing cos­metic clin­ics work. It ex­plains why some clin­ics in the Gang­nam area crowded with cos­metic clin­ics are pros­per­ing while some nearby close down. The lo­ca­tion of clin­ics, top sur­geons and their ex­per­tise are mean­ing­less un­less they are com­bined with suc­cess­ful on­line mar­ket­ing.

Kim started off as a writer in 2013 when he ac­ci­den­tally thought of the worst-case sce­nario of a leak of anes­thetic drugs he was han­dling in his of­fice.

“What if the drug bot­tle shat­tered into pieces on the floor? What if I lose con­scious­ness as a re­sult of anes­the­sia? The ‘what ifs’ made me scared,” he said.

He said that fear drove him to work on his first novel “Anes­the­sia,” which was re­leased in 2018, to warn the pub­lic of the pos­si­ble dan­gers of anes­thetic drugs. It tells the story of a dead city that falls asleep af­ter a leak of anes­thetic drugs from the man­u­fac­turer. His first novel will be adapted into a movie as he re­cently signed a con­tract with a film stu­dio.

The dig­i­tal age has cast a shadow over nov­el­ists.

Among oth­ers, de­clin­ing book sales and the rise of videos and im­ages as al­ter­na­tive con­tent have pushed fic­tion writ­ers to think about their fu­ture and how they can make a liv­ing.

De­spite the daunt­ing re­al­ity, Kim en­cour­ages pro­fes­sion­als to try to write sto­ries, say­ing fic­tion nov­els that can give in­sid­ers’ views of pro­fes­sional fields, such as medicine and law, may help draw read­ers’ at­ten­tion back to lit­er­a­ture.

“We are all en­gaged in cer­tain pro­fes­sions to make a liv­ing. As time goes by, our ex­pe­ri­ences broaden and we all be­came mas­ters in our fields. I think doc­tors, lawyers and engi­neers can write fic­tion nov­els based on their own ex­pe­ri­ences to en­ter­tain read­ers,” he said.

Out­side Korea, he said, there are sev­eral doc­tors-turned-nov­el­ists. “Among them, my two fa­vorite nov­el­ists are Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle, au­thor of Sher­lock Homes, and Michael Crich­ton, who pulled off Juras­sic Park. They are my role mod­els,” he said.

Kim said he wants to be a pi­o­neer in the med­i­cal fic­tion genre in Korea, hop­ing his nov­els can be trans­lated into for­eign lan­guages and read by global read­ers.

Born in 1972, Kim has prac­ticed cos­metic surgery in Gang­nam for over a decade af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Seoul Na­tional Univer­sity Col­lege of Medicine.

Courtesy of Kim You-my­oung

Kim You-myung, plas­tic sur­geon and au­thor

“Face” by Kim You-myung

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