FROM THE KOREA TIMES - Arts & Living
Thursday, May 14, 2009 | 9:26 p.m. ET
Wandering Man, Victim of Hopeless Society
By Chung Ah-young
Han Jae-ho, a rising author who won the Changbi Publishers’ best novel prize, wrote “Bukowski Goes.”/ Korea Times Photo by Bae Woo-han
With the jobless rate for the young reaching a high of 8.8 percent in March this year, youngsters cannot help but be driven into the margins of society.
A man in his 20s, who is supposed to be economically and socially productive and active, lives a repetitive life surfing the Internet to find a job and wandering around his town just for nothing.
He sometimes joins his friends' social gatherings to celebrate someone's wedding or employment. But he feels he doesn't belong to ``their society'' and becomes estranged from mainstream life.
``Bukowski Goes,'' a new novel written by Han Jae-ho, a rising author who won the Changbi Publishers' best novel prize, penetrates the psychology of a jobless man's anxiety through his wanderings.
With the disappointments of vanishing youth, he has been repeating the same routine for two years after university graduation, spent in writing his stereotyped resumes and comparing the wages of jobs.
Amid his tedious and repetitive routine, one day, he comes to hear about a mysterious storeowner nicknamed ``Bukowski'' who closes his store whenever it rains and goes somewhere.
He decides to follow Bukowski with his girlfriend because he has nothing particular to do. As if in a chasing game, he stalks the man who shuts down his shop at 9 a.m. on a rainy day and disappears.
He travels listlessly following the man from Jongno, Gwanghwamun, Sinchon, Yeouido to Gangnam, which seem to have nothing in common.
His day-to-day existence spirals into an endless litany of pathetic encounters with strangers, sordid rooms, dreary embraces and drunken binges.
After stalking him without any purpose, he returns home without knowing anything new about him.
While chasing the man, he sometimes feels daunted amid the crowd going to their workplaces in the rush hours. He doesn't stop applying to companies and has job interviews, but all he gets from them is rejection.
Han Jae-ho; Changbi Publishers: 229 pp., 9,800 won
As he follows Bukowski without any purpose, so does his quarry seemingly go nowhere without any particular reason. What this circularity finds is intimate to the theme of futility ― why go anywhere and why do anything?
But during his chase, he sees another man with a black umbrella stalking him. At this point, the story tantalizes the readers with a probable ending that will hopefully unveil who Bukowski and the man with the black umbrella are.
But the novel doesn't reveal the identity of the mysterious Bukowski. Also, the protagonist doesn't find a job, leaving himself to his vain efforts in searching for a job.
For him, there is no need for an answer or a conclusion about Bukowski because it's an allegory that his generation is driven into unlimited and futile competition without any goal or failing to find a goal, the author says.
The story seemingly smacks of a detective story but it is a little bit languid in narration rather than being thrilling as the weary routine plays out the reality of the jobless young and how they can't follow the social changes.
The protagonist is just portrayed as a desperate young man deprived of the right to work in a hopeless society with sarcastic grief and thus he has to do something however meaningless to find a reason for life.
He depicts himself as a man who is not allowed to belong to the social mainstream regardless of whether he wants to join the system or not.
The story unfolds with an impressive collection of failures ― failed job, failed relationship and failed everything ― all told with a considerable amount of irony.
All in all, the novel follows the legacy of German-American author Charles Bukowski who writes masterful, vivid portrayals of slow-paced, low-life urbanity and alcoholism ― an excellent introduction to the fictional world.
Han says that he was actually motivated to write the novel mixed with a lot of ``flaws and excessivenesses'' from Bukowski's novels.
The novel was praised as the ``growth pain novel'' for youngsters, which is all about questions without answers, delinquencies without saviors and losses without growth.
``Through his repetitive chase, the novel reveals the multi-facets of the city as the ordinary space and freshly sheds light on the dry relations among anonymous people living in that society through bountiful insinuations,'' the literary critics in the book say.
The protagonist seems to fail in finding the answer from harsh reality but doesn't stop soul-searching in this society that makes a 30-year-old man a ``child'' who lives under parenthood without any social independence.