Category Archives: Hooray Fiction!

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

Sometimes admiration makes you chatty. How many people read Karl Ove Knausgaard and just have to tell you about him?

Other times, admiration strikes you dumb. This is one of those times.

Maybe one reason why I have very little to say about my admiration of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is because I don’t often read graphic novels. In fact I’ve been kind of an asshole about them in the past. Which leaves me ill-equipped to articulate what’s so great about the ones that really grab me.

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is a 300-page graphic novel about the birth of the country of Malaysia, told through the biography of its greatest (fictional) comic book artist, using every style you can think of: sepia-toned realism, bright bursting Sunday newspaper panels, superhero action sequences, sketchbooks, painted portraits, political propaganda posters, etc. It seems that author Sonny Liew is fifteen different talents in one. This book is art. It’s history. It’s a slippery biography of a fascinatingly realistic character. Continue reading

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Q&A with Minsoo Kang, Translator of The Story of Hong Gildong

The Story of Hong Gildong

Five hundred years ago there was a bandit in Korea named Hong Gildong. His life inspired a story that has been told countless times since then–the story of a magical boy who joins a group of bandits and becomes their king. To celebrate the new English translation of The Story of Hong Gildong, we asked Minsoo Kang a few questions.

When did you first encounter the story of Hong Gildong?

The figure of Hong Gildong is so ubiquitous in modern Korean culture that anyone who grew up in the country would be familiar with the hero as a part of his or her childhood memory. So I cannot pinpoint when exactly I first encountered him, in the same way as it would be impossible for most Americans to remember when exactly they first discovered Superman or Batman. His story is indeed so well known that most Koreans can recite Hong Gildong’s lament at his condition of being an illegitimate child, how he cannot even “address his father as Father and older brother as Brother.” Even here in the United States, I am rather delighted whenever I mention my translation project to Korean-Americans and they respond by saying “Hong Gildong! My childhood hero!” Continue reading

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Imaginary Friends

socal mansion

In high school my friends and I daydreamed about the big house we’d all buy together when we grew up. It would be a big house in Southern California, and every day would be a continuation of our glorious days of summer: dinner parties, Frisbee, car washes, greasy sandwiches, bonfires at the beach. We each had a role: handyman, cook, that guy who does all the spreadsheets.

Perhaps you all know how this ends. Perhaps it is hardly surprising for me to tell you that we are scattered now, that many of us no longer talk at all. I never told them this, but I didn’t want to live in California anyway.

To say we grew apart is a cheap explanation. It leaves much out. Growing apart—what does that mean? Why do some friendships grow and others grow apart? Where is the line between breathing space and total disconnection? Continue reading

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Q&A with James Reich, Author of Mistah Kurtz!

Mistah Kurtz

Why did you write a prelude to Heart of Darkness? What does Conrad’s book mean for you, and why should readers revisit it today?

I’m writing this on MLK Day in the United States, but I grew up in England where protesting apartheid, demanding sanctions and boycotts were part of what it meant to belong to the Left as a youth in the 1980s. I’m forty-four. As anachronistic as it may seem to revisit Conrad, those conditions, of the Congo, of institutional racism, exploitation, uniformed brutality, capitalism and privateering have not changed. As for the book itself, Henry James had a phrase: “The plot won’t tell… not in any literal vulgar way.” And the impressionism of Conrad’s novella is masterful. The nebulous horror, the lack of elephants in a book about the ivory trade, the haunted corruption that make Heart of Darkness one of the ur-texts of modernism, also mean that it is a pulled punch — Yet, the fact that Conrad planted the existence of Kurtz’s papers in Heart of Darkness says that there is a counter-narrative to all that Conrad obscures, or a narrative that has no need of ambiguity — that has always been there. Heart of Darkness is everywhere, not just Apocalypse Now, but in the original screenplay of Alien, in the post-punk of The Gang of Four (“We Live As We Dream, Alone”), in T.S. Eliot, and the streets of American cities. Mistah Kurtz! is a vulgar book, in at least one sense.

Do you have a favorite copy of Heart of Darkness that’s all banged up and scribbled on? Continue reading

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Better Living Through Not Reading

Better Living Through Criticism

Friends, I really wanted to read Better Living Through Criticism by A. O. Scott so I could respond to it and contribute something to the discussion described in its subtitle: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth. But I wasn’t able to get past page 7.

Page 7 is where Scott—one of the film critics at The New York Times—serves up yet another helping of the blandly acceptable word salad that characterizes this book: “Every culture, every class and tribe and coterie, every period in history has developed its own canons of craft and invention.” Great, thanks. What?

This is a book in which the author—borrowing the humor of, like, Dave Barry’s grandpa, or something—actually interviews himself, writing both the Qs and As, and amuses himself with responses such as: “Well, no, actually. I mean yes.” Continue reading

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What About Jean Louise?

Harper Lee passed away this morning at the age of 89. While it’s sad to see her go, her passing is a reminder that the author of To Kill a Mockingbird lived long enough to see the election and re-election of our nation’s first black president, a heartening data point to enter into the ledger of history. A shadow was cast over Lee’s final year due to the publication of Go Set a Watchman, a “sequel” of sorts to Mockingbird in which the idealist hero Atticus finch has become sour, embittered and, sadly, racist. Last August, Magin LaSov Gregg offered a unique take on the novel and the controversy surrounding it. We’re happy to share it again today.

Jean Louise

I almost didn’t read Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman because of what the reviews said about Atticus, who transforms from an ACLU-ish lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird to a Klan meeting attender in Watchman. But when I read to the very end of page 278, it wasn’t the proto-Tea Party Atticus that irritated me. What bothered me was that early reviews of Watchman allowed Jean Louise to be eclipsed by her father, as if Atticus were the whole point of this story.

I don’t disagree that Watchman is an inferior literary work. How can it not be? It’s possibly a draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was among a handful of books that re-defined female possibility for me when I was growing up poor, white, and in perpetual fear of losing my mother to an illness that eventually killed her. Scout Finch showed me what it meant to be brave and to thrive in absence of a mother. In my sometimes-bleak girlhood, Scout was both who I wanted to be and who I wanted to become: independent and able to transcend the limitations that life handed me.

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