Vaseline Budda by Jung Young Moon, translated by Yewon Jung [in Library Journal]
As narratives go, little happens in Jung Young Moon’s latest translated-into-English title: unable to sleep, the protagonist considers writing a story, but not before he prevents a possible robbery. The unknown fate of the fallen thief sparks his imagination to cite memories (a break-up, a house-sitting experience, his nine-year-old son), far-flung journeys (France, Madagascar, Nepal, and beyond), philosophical ponderings (Marx, Hitler, his dead fish named Kierkegaard), obscure historical observations (transracial adoption in the Netherlands, Yasser Arafat’s love of Tom and Jerry cartoons), and much more.
Disparate details, devices, and themes all coalesce into “this story [that] is also a story about the process of writing a story.” Defying labels, Jung – an enigmatic sensation in South Korea whose chameleon-like linguistic talent has allowed him to render 40-plus English-language titles into Korean (from the likes of Germaine Greer, John Fowles, and Raymond Carver) – ultimately offers an audacious discourse on creativity, presenting readers with a labyrinth of ideas, images, suggestions, and observations all waiting and available to individual interpretation. Translator Yewon Jung deserves equal praise for smoothly deciphering the author’s generous sentences and multipage paragraphs.
Verdict: Audiences are likely to have two extreme reactions to this book: adulation or dismissal. Libraries with adventurous patrons will want to acquire and test this provoking treatise without delay.