New-generation writer Park Min-gyu charms Korean readers

  • Published : Apr 6, 2010 - 14:22
  • Updated : Apr 6, 2010 - 14:22

A small tip on how to put an elephant into a fridge: first, open the fridge door, and then put it into it. Finally, close the door. "That will help a lot," says the main character in a short story titled "Castella" by Park Min-gyu. Following the useful tip, the character puts everything into the fridge - Jonathan Swift`s "Gulliver`s Travels," his own father, schools, the President, the United States and the entire Chinese people (1.26 billion Chinese, to be exact).
That is how Park unfolds his stories. In a style that is highly playful but not vulgar, Park has won many young readers at a time when literature is no longer favored by the young generation.
Park, however, is not young - at least relatively. Compared with other truly young writers who are in their 20s, Park made his formal debut only in 2003 at the age of 36. But the 2003 debut itself was celebrated: Park won both the prestigious Munhakdongnae Writer Award with "Legend of Earth`s Heroes" and the Hankyoreh Literary Award with "The Last Fan Club of Sammi Super Stars."

Both novels became bestsellers instantly, revealing Park`s talent with words and a sense of humor. But his ardent fans are not limited to the younger generations. According to Munhakdongnae, which published two of his books, his fictions are now widely loved by general readers, young and old.
Last Friday, in recognition of his achievement through the short story collection titled "Castella," Park won the Shin Dong-yeop Literary Award organized by Changbi Publishers, marking his popularity among critics as well.
Indeed, local literary critics have noticed Park`s unique writing style and stressed its potential. Lee Oi-soo, a critic and novelist, says, "If somebody asks me to pick one shocking incident that has happened in the history of Korean literature, I wouldn`t hesitate to point out the advent of a writer named Park Min-gyu."
Says Kim Young-ha, one of the most popular "new-generation" writers in their 30s: "If I`m allowed to take one thing from Park Min-gyu, I would readily take the surprisingly fresh writing style that he created and has thrown at us."
It is notable that Kim, known for his experimental and entertaining writing style, appreciates Park`s talent. More important, however, is that general readers in Korea are actually buying and avidly reading Park`s novels and short stories.
Born in 1968, Park graduated from Chung-Ang University with a degree in creative writing, and worked for a shipping company, an advertising agency and a local magazine. One day, he just felt he wanted to write something and resigned as a magazine editor-in-chief and started writing at home all day long, which produced the award-winning novels.
In Park`s works, his fictional characters are mostly plain-looking, not-that-successful men who are constantly seeking new momentum in their boring lives.
"Legend of Earth`s Heroes," Park`s representative novel, features one such male character, who sees his dream come true: a truly amazing momentum comes because he joins the world`s super heroes like Superman, Batman, Wonderwoman, Aquaman - by agreeing to become "Banana man."
The Banana man is a Korean and happens to join the super-powerful heroes club. But his chief task at the Headquarters of Justice is to get Big Macs to Superman and Batman, painkillers to Robin and tampons to Wonderwoman.
He feels proud of his job but agonizes over his fate. Surely, he protects the Earth and safeguards justices with other super heroes, but because of his "yellow skin" (though he has "white spirit") he cannot blend into the white society, stopping short of being a sidekick.
Do Jung-il, a renowned critic, says, "Park`s novel has a flavor of fantasy but soon it changes into satire and sarcasm and to a not-very-funny black comedy. His sentences flow well and clearly show that the writer thinks outside the box."
Indeed, Park writes outside the box, and often jumps right out of the box, asking readers to forget about conventional novels. Park relies chiefly on his imagination and research, avoiding writings based largely on his personal experiences.
The background of his two novels are set in the 1980s. The Korean baseball team which set many records in the early 80s because of their unbelievably poor performances, and American comic strip heroes are cases in point. But his experimental and playful writing style blurs the boundary between reality and fiction, and asks readers to realize his fiction is just a structure of words and imagination.
Citing the fact that Park has a postmodernist appeal and pieces together a variety of styles on his own initiative, Shin Su-jeong, a critic, defines Park as a "junk artist."
Curiously enough, Park sports conspicuously long hair and big glasses - a junk style maybe - and is reluctant to go out and meet people, including other writers and reporters. The Korea Herald requested an interview last week, politely asking whether he can squeeze some time from his "terribly busy" schedule.
In an e-mail reply, Park said, "Actually, I`m not busy at all. I don`t have any gut to tell others to take it easy and at the same time live a busy life myself. For this reason, I`m telling a lie to others that I`m always terribly busy. By telling this lie, I can live `not that busy` life. Anyway, for this reason, I`m just writing, not doing anything else these days."

By Yang Sung-jin