By Ryan C. Bradley
In his inimitable, recursive, meditative style that reads like a comedic zen koan but contains universes, Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River recounts Korean cult writer’s Jung Young Moon’s time spent at an artist’s and writers residency in small-town Texas. In an attempt to understand what a “true Texan should know,” the author reflects on his outsider experiences in this most unique of places, learning to two-step, musing on cowboy hats and cowboy churches, blending his observations with a meditative rumination on the history of Texas and the events that shaped the state, from the first settlers to Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald. All the while, the author is asking what a novel is and must be, while accompanied by a fictional cast of seven samurai who the author invents and carries with him, silent companions in a pantomime of existential theater. Jung blends fact with imagination, humor with reflection, and meaning with meaninglessness, as his meanderings become an absorbing, engaging, quintessential novel of ideas. —Goodreads
Published by Deep Vellum Publishing, Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River
by Jung Young Moon is a “literary meandering into the mythology of place and what a novel can be, inspired by the author’s time spent at an artist residency in small-town Texas.”
Before I could drive, I used to pretend a skateboarder was grinding on the barrier between the north and southbound sides of I-95, picturing him jump over the gaps in the guardrail. Jung Young Moon captures that kind of thinking in his fifth novel translated from Korean into English, Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River. Instead of a skateboarder, he imagines the titular samurai, who, “scuffle with each other for reasons unknown” before being “swept away in a river.”
Those samurai are only a small part of this book, which blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction, following the tangents that Young Moon’s mind is taking him on. It has more in common with lyrics essays, which jump between ideas without transitions, than traditional novels. As Young Moon himself puts it, Seven Samurai Swept Away in the River is “something that [he is] writing in the name of a novel, but that that is perhaps unnameable,” or “a series of groundless hypotheses, a mixture of the stream of consciousness technique, and the derangement of consciousness technique.”
Since the book is following thoughts, Seven Samurai Swept Away in the River lacks a cast of characters and a plot. Typically, a plot drives a story. Young Moon replaces it with humor and intelligent observations. He, smartly, keeps the book to a tight 168 pages as well, which means there is less need for forward momentum than in a 600-page novel.
For much of those 168 pages, he thinks about the history of Texas while he is there as part of an artist’s residency. His meandering thoughts about the state are fascinating. He tends to start with a real idea—Jack Ruby bringing two of his dogs while he goes to assassinate Lee Harvey Oswald, for instance—and then begins to reconstruct Ruby’s thought processes, filling pages with the “maybes” and “perhapses” speculating on Ruby’s motivation.
Since Young Moon is tracing imagination, his sentences stretch, filling full pages at times. They can be hard to keep track of from beginning to end, but so can chains-of-thought.
Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River is a free-floating thought experiment with loads of laughs. (★★★★☆)