The Comedian Who Went to the Moon
- onNovember 10, 2014
- Vol.7 Spring 2010
- byKim Yeonsu
- World's End Girlfriend
“The Comedian Who Went to the Moon” is a novella about a woman’s search for her father, a comedian who vanished at the height of his popularity. It won the 2007 Hwang Sun-won Literary Award, and was included in Kim’s short story collection, World’s End Girlfriend, which was published in September of 2009. Below is an excerpt from the beginning of the book.
It was December 24, 2000, eighteen years after a man made his journey into the desert. I was invited to a party by an older alumnus friend in celebration of his recent appointment as full-time professor. There, I saw a woman with a perm, which brought to mind those Cabbage Patch dolls in America that had been such a sensation when I was little. Naturally, I ended up mentioning the Cabbage Patch dolls, which reminded me of ugly American girls, and our conversation led to various events of the early 1980s (when the dolls had been popular), and I ended up recalling a story about a boxer who’d fought desperately for the title of Lightweight World Champion in that city of delights in Nevada, only to end up brain-dead. It was Mike Tyson who said, in something like hip-hop rhyme, “Other than boxing, everything is so boring,” I drunkenly imitated him, in something like hip-hop rhyme. “Other than boooxing, everything is so boooring.” I was a bit dubious of my own behavior, since it wasn’t like me at all to joke around like that in front of strangers. Soon after, the woman with the cabbage head said, “Do you think you could turn that into a novel?” Only then did I realize that she was the reason for my unusual behavior.
“What do you mean?”
“That boxer. The guy who died in Las Vegas.
Could you turn his suffering into a novel?”
“Novels don’t deal with expressing suffering directly. Essays do that. Writing a novel is an act of taking the suffering that the author knows and turning it into story. If I can understand the suffering of the boxer who senses his impending death, then I can write it into a novel.”
“Let me ask it another way then. Do you understand suffering?”
“A novelist’s suffering is when he can’t sell his books because readers can’t understand them.”
People around us burst into laughter.
“It’s no laughing matter.”
“Hey, then you’re sufficiently qualified to write about that boxer,” my alumni friend butted in to say.
“No, no. I’m one of those novelists who don’t know the meaning of suffering,” I said, tongue-in-cheek.
The lady with the cabbage head said to me, “I have a feeling that sooner or later, you’re going to end up writing about that boxer.”
“Well, are you saying I’m going to understand suffering sooner or later? Or that you’ll show me?”
We exchanged meaningful looks. I didn’t know what kind of time frame she had in mind when she said “sooner or later,” but as you can see, I’m writing a novel about a boxer, so perhaps I’ve learned a little something about suffering by now? It was the Heavyweight World Champion Floyd Patterson who said, “It’s a little like falling in love with a woman.”
He added, “It doesn’t matter if the woman is untrustworthy, mean, or savage. If she keeps hurting you in every imaginable way, but you still love her and want her, what can you do about it? That’s my relationship with boxing.” It’s possible that everything started from this.
No more than 10 minutes after it became obvious that she knew I was a novelist, I became aware of a strange warmth every time I looked in her direction.
Every time I collected more information about her, through what other people said or what she said herself, the heat became a little more intense. She was a high school classmate of my alumni friend’s wife, and a producer at a radio station. We were the same age. As midnight approached and flakes of snow fell with indescribable beauty, my face was glowing red like the full moon on the 15th day of the new year, tinged with the afterimage of children playing with rings of flame. Part of it was my drunkenness. Part of it the warmth.
* Translated by Jae Won Chung.
Kim Yeonsu is a novelist. Kim debuted in 1993 by publishing a poem in Writer’s World. He published the novels Walking While Pointing to the Mask, Goodbye Mr. Yi Sang, Route 7, The Night Is Singing, and Wonderboy and the short story collections I Am a Ghost Writer, Twenty, and World's End Girlfriend. Kim has received a number of literary awards, including the Daesan Literary Award and Yi Sang Literary Award.