The ASIA Publishers K-fiction series kicks of with a powerful bang with Park Min-gyu’s novella, Dinner with Buffet (available on Amazon). It’s a powerful novella, compellingly written, and just about as timely as a work of literature can be.
Park Min-gyu is in equal parts satirist and stylist and in Dinner with Buffet his style and satire mingle in a savage attack on post-industrial capitalism. This might not come as a surprise to readers of his previous work, including Is That So? I’m a Giraffe which used narrative, capitalism and its destruction of the family, the mechanization of humanity, and absurdity to tear a metaphorical hole in the body of the Korean modernization efforts of the 1990s.
In this case, Park has moved on to nearly post-modern territory, where the contested area is not the human body, as in Giraffe, but the human mind and how modern society (read, “government” or more properly “capitalism”) uses powerful tools to control the behavior of its subjects.
Park begins his tale with Warren Buffett (yes, that Warren Buffett) on his way to meet the president to discuss a threat so grave that not only will the president not directly tell Buffet what it is, but the president can’t even come to identify who or what the threat is, referring to the threat as only “they,” perhaps aliens, perhaps another country, perhaps anything. Worse, from Buffet’s perspective, this meeting is making him late for a dinner appointment, a dinner appointment purchased by auction, in which the lucky winner is expected to get financial advice from Buffet.
When Buffet finally does get through his meeting with the president, the unclear “they” of the initial part of the story become clear: “They” are those who are no longer willing to accept life a merely economic issue; those who might eat a cheap hamburger because they are hungry, rather than wait for an expensive meal with Buffet; those who are not interested in investment advice. In other words, “those” who no longer blindly accept the monetization of everything social, psychological, and physical. In this case, a young man named Ahn.
It is also worth noting, that this is a very “Korean” story in its way, because the character Ahn represents a very current Korean problem; the “880,000 Won Generation”, and if you changed the name of Warren Buffett to that of a chaebol owner in Korea, the story would be no different (Though Park would certainly have been sued by the notoriously litigious chaebol). Ahn is a literary attempt to imagine getting past where Korea currently is, both economically and socially – incredibly focused on wealth and its “importance” while at the same time in a period of slackness, if not decline.
Part of the enjoyment of reading Dinner with Buffett is the clear lack of understanding that Buffett and his retinue have of this new “they” and what the implication of “them” might be. During dinner Park describes a scene, after Ahn has revealed himself to be uninterested in money or material possessions, with Buffett, Ahn, and Buffet’s handler Carrie:
Buffett needed time to process his thoughts. He decided it was better to just chew rather than clumsily attempt conversation. The breast meat was certainly an excellent dish for chewing. Carrie was almost choking.
In these short sentences Park manages to sum up the story to that point, as well as clearly show how shocking and even threatening the new “they” can be.
Park’s characterization of Buffet’s life is a part of his great satirical skills as he takes the “truth” (e.g. Buffett’s humble beginnings) and writes it to seem as though it must be parody, a kind of Horatio Alger story on meta-amphetamines. Park writes directly at the audience, as he often does, in quick, hard-hitting sentences that move along quickly, like an army on parade. This is an easy and fun book to read
Dinner With Buffet ends on a one sentence note of guarded optimism – a kind of grace note that Park has used before (Castella / Korean Standards) to great effect. This is another pleasure of reading Park – as dark, in his light way, as Park may see the world and where the economicization of everything has brought us, Park refuses to see the possibility of a way out, and that place a cherry on top of this excellent book, which all fans of Korean fiction, modern, post-modern, or just plain fiction, should enjoy.
NOTE: This is book 001 of the ASIA Publisher K-Fiction series and contains the story in both languages, critical and historical knowledge (in a useful essay at the end), as well a short essay by the author, with the composition of those pieces seeming to vary book by book. (Late Breaking News: It has also been reviewed here at Tony’s Reading List)
(ps, you can catch up with KTLIT on twitter at @ktlit)