JUSTIFY YOURSELF: K.J. Bishop and Minsoo Kang
Readers may already be familiar with K.J. Bishop's The Etched City, a Decadence-drenched fantasy that has garnered lots of praise, won the Crawford Award, and is being reissued by Bantam Books in December. However, you may not be as familiar with Minsoo Kang, whose first collection, Of Tales and Enigmas, is forthcoming from Prime Books in January 2005. For that reason, a few blurbs on Minsoo Kang's behalf:
Liz Williams: "It has a real fairy-story feel to it, with a philosophical dimension that adds depth and resonance. Its subtle, intricate and inscrutable tales are filled with curiosities and wonders. I also thought that it had a very refreshing non-Western sensibility, and that there is room for the reader's imagination to do some work."
L. Timmel Duchamp: " Minsoo Kang has an impressive knack of embedding his tales in settings richly textured with their own distinct histories and conceptual systems. 'Of Tales and Enigmas' offers engaging narratives, often encompassing a grand sweep of history, that resonate intriguingly as postmodern parables about story and its tremendous significance in the world we human beings make collectively."
Nick Gevers: "Minsoo Kang is an emerging fabulist of rare distinction. His fictions--intricate, mythic, full of deft symmetries and acute resonances--recall Kafka and Calvino, but add a Korean edge and particularity all their own."
Zoran Zivkovic: "There is one solid reason you shouldn't miss Minsoo Kang's first story collection Of Tales and Enigmas: he writes beautifully simple and simply beautiful."
And now it's time for both writers to...
Why should readers pick up your book as opposed to, say, just about anybody else's book?
K. J. Bishop: Readers should pick up my book and someone else's. Readers: buy a book instead of a pizza, or half a pizza, or whatever fraction of a pizza you can get for a few bucks these days. It's a diet that works.
Minsoo Kang: Fantastic tales, strange enigmas, intellectual puzzles, historical meditations, all very Borgesian, Calvinoesque, and, dare I say it, Nabokovian. Also, some Korean ghost stories written by an actual, live Korean from Korea, who speaks Korean, who reads Korean literature, writes about Korean history, and who still has nightmares from the worst experiences he went through while serving in the Korean army. Also, one of few works published in the United States written by an Asian living in the United States that is NOT about: how-my-Asian-mother-drove-me-nuts-until-I-found-out-all-the-terrible-things-she-went-through-in-the-old-country-and-learned-to-be-less-neurotic-about-my-Asian-identity-and-married-a-white-man-because-Asian-men-are-too-uptight.
Does your book have any socially redeeming qualities? If so, what are they?
K.J. Bishop: It's a book. Books are for reading. Reading improves literacy. Literacy is good for society.
Minsoo Kang: Breaking the stereotype of the Asian writer writing in the United States. ‘Oh look, he’s Asian and he’s written stories in the experimental-fantastic mode, not on how-my-Asian-mother-drove-me-nuts-until-I-found-out-all-the-terrible-things-she-went-through-in-the-old-country-and-learned-to-be-less-neurotic-about-my-Asian-identity-and-married-a-white-man-because-Asian-men-are-too-uptight. And he writes so fluently in English! I wonder how long he’s been in the country, and I wonder if his spoken English has a strong accent.’
Does your book have any medicinal or mental health value to readers?
K.J. Bishop: Throwing it across the room may have some therapeutic value.
Minsoo Kang: Known to work well for temporary relief from O.I.R. (overdose of ironic realism – caused by reading story after story, novel after novel that are ‘ironic but ultimately touching look at modern life’ and deal with ‘the-day-I-realized-my-father-was-a-vulnerable-fallible-human-being-and-how-I-despised-him-for-it-then-but-love-him-for-it-now’, and ‘how-my-Asian-mother-drove-me-nuts-until-I-found-out-all-the-terrible-things-she-went-through-in-the-old-country-and-learned-to-be-less-neurotic-about-my-Asian-identity-and-married-a-white-man-because-Asian-men-are-too-uptight.’
Assume your book has been filed under "Ages 8 to 12" in the children's section, perhaps by mistake, perhaps not. How horrified do you imagine a child would be after reading your book, and why? How many years of therapy would the child take to recover from the experience?
K.J. Bishop: Given that the book is full of violence and drug use and contains sex scenes and coarse language, I imagine that kids would probably think it was cool, if they weren't too bored by the long philosophical discussions. And there's a cute puppy in it.
Minsoo Kang: After reading the book, the child would find himself deprived of the ability to become an ironic realist. Therapy would be completely ineffectual in helping the child recover, so he or she would have to be sent to an institution for at least two years during which he or she would be subjected to the radical and morally questionable treatment known as the M.F.A. program.
If no one buys your book and you are unable to continue publishing your fiction due to the intense vilification that occurs in the media, what line of work will you go into?
K.J. Bishop: Village idiot.
Minsoo Kang: I have a day job as a professor of European history, so I would just write history books, but in order to make some extra cash until I get tenure, I would also adopt a penname and write novels on how-my-Asian-mother-drove-me-nuts-until-I-found-out-all-the-terrible-things-she-went-through-in-the-old-country-and-learned-to-be-less-neurotic-about-my-Asian-identity-and-married-a-white-man-because-Asian-men-are-too-uptight, because Americans can’t seem to get enough of them.
(Evil Monkey: "Jeff--did you have anything to do with this?" Jeff: "I will not rest until I have written a secret life for every American. It was my campaign pledge, and I plan to honor it." Evil Monkey: "Whatever. Say, gotten any further on Flights or that Circus in Winter collection--or even on the Crowley stories?" Jeff: "I hate you, Evil Monkey, with the hatred of a thousand white-hot suns channeled through a single magnifying glass.")