Seven Samurai Swept Away In A River

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Jung Young Moon, author of SEVEN SAMURAI SWEPT AWAY IN A RIVER, has written a modern-day version of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Although his narrator isn’t a sailor and hasn’t murdered an albatross, he still keeps telling a long, rambling story, one that touches on Jack Ruby and his two dogs, bisons in space, utopian colonies, ghost towns, Bonnie & Clyde, Hemingway, Texas farms and farmers, and the seven samurai of the book’s title.

Is the book a novel or merely a 164-page, stream-of-consciousness monologue? And does it have much literary value? Moon himself isn’t quite sure. “The only thing that concerned me was finding out how long and until when could I go on saying things like this that were pure nonsense and that kept going off on a tangent and that had nothing to say and that, furthermore, made no difference whether they said anything or not and in the end were irrelevant, and you could say that I’m writing this to find that out (and to find out how much longer I can go on using repetitions of words and phrases which naturally bring pleasure to people who understand the pleasure they bring, and don’t to people who don’t understand them). There were too many novels that made an attempt to say something, and too few that intentionally said something that may be irrelevant, and as for me, I thought there was a need to think that there was a need to say things that may be irrelevant, and to think that there was a need to think that there was no need to say other things, and what I wanted to say was things that kept going off on a tangent forever, if only that were possible.”

Moon, who is Korean, wrote this strange book in a writer’s residency in Corsicana, Texas, which explains his fascination with things Texan (he is quite funny on cowboy hats and drinking corn liquor). He also has a warm feeling for small towns on vast plains, especially the one in which a woman showed up and took over the long-shuttered roller-skating rink where she danced by herself and sang sad Russian songs.

“I pictured in mind the woman dancing in a roller skating rink where the song ‘Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety’–-written in 1970 by Morton Feldman, born to Russian immigrant parents and a friend of John Cage’s, for Vera Maurina Press, a woman from a Russian aristocratic family who’d been his first piano teacher when he was a child.”

For all its meanderings and eccentricities, SEVEN SAMURAI manages to catch you up in its narrative spell and hold you there, transfixed.

(Deep Vellum Publishing; translated from the Korean by Yewon Jung.