Humor, Baseball, and Park Min-gyu: The Sammi Superstars' Last Fan Club by Park Min-gyu
- onMarch 22, 2018
- Vol.39 Spring 2018
- byKen Nishizaki
- 三美スーパースターズ 最後のファンクラブ (The Sammi Superstars' Last Fan Club)
Tr. Mariko Saito 2017361pp.
The Sammi Superstars’ Last Fan Club is a multifaceted novel. One could read it as the memoir of a boy growing up in the early eighties, a time that also coincided with the birth of professional baseball in South Korea. It also reads as a record of the narrator’s meditations on the country of South Korea itself. But to me, the most important aspects of the novel are humor and baseball. Both of these things bring people pleasure. Yet neither has held much influence over literature anywhere in the world.
Literature, too, is multifaceted. There, we find stories of death, love, life, family, religion, war. And we should be surprised by the fact that these elements have been arranged into a hierarchy. To put it bluntly, the heavier or more serious something is, the more value it’s considered to have as literature.
For example, let’s say there’s a novel, stylistically humorous, that follows the story of well-to-do boys and girls who go on an adventure, find themselves in a series of dangerous predicaments, and then, in the end, wind up happy. No matter how great that work is, it will never be considered as valuable as a novel based on someone’s experiences in prison during World War II. This leads us to one of the ironies of literature. Despite the fact that literature itself is considered rather unimportant in the real world, the same standards used to judge the importance of real events are employed to determine the value of a work of literature as well.
There are, of course, exceptions. Mark Twain’s works are held in high esteem. As are those of writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, and Barry Yourgrau, who fused American poetics with humor. Twain did become a terrible pessimist in his later years, and it’s said that Brautigan committed suicide after losing his readership, but let’s put that aside for now.
Pardon the long introduction, but there is a reason I brought up these American authors. I feel that Park’s work shares a certain style of humor with the work of those American authors. The following quote is from the afterword of The Sammi Superstars’ Last Fan Club, and it perfectly expresses Park’s sense of humor:
“When we’ve made some money, let’s raise seahorses,” I told my wife when I got home. “We can do whatever you want,” she responded, smiling. She’s so kind she didn’t let it show on her face, but the truth is, we were so poor we’d be better off if we could get some seahorses to raise us . . .
There’s a lot of information in this passage. This couple is poor but happy. The husband seems to like seahorses. And the choice of seahorses also suggests the husband’s odd personality. However, what’s most important is the way that talk of “a couple keeping a pet” instantly transforms into talk of “a pet keeping a pair of humans.” Humor often contains within it this sort of transformation of perception and has a powerfully philosophical side to it as well. Henri-Louis Bergson writes in “Laughter” that these perceptual shifts are tied in an essential way to regulations and rules. Or, to put it more clearly, they are a protest against regulations and rules, as well as the people who establish and maintain them.
And now, reader, maybe you can see why humor and baseball are juxtaposed in this novel. After all, is there any sport with as many rules as baseball? Try comparing it to soccer. The difference in the number of rules is enough to make one dizzy!
The Sammi Superstars’ Fan Club’s goal is to establish their own baseball which is described as follows: “Don’t hit balls that are hard to hit. Don’t catch balls that are hard to catch.” This is more than just a protest against preexisting rules. In fact, it’s not a protest at all. It’s a gesture that gives life to rules.
I’d like to end by adding that in the past few years the amount of Japanese translations of literature from all across Asia has increased dramatically, and that translations of Korean literature in particular are thriving in Japan. Mariko Saito, the Japanese translator of The Sammi Superstars’ Last Fan Club is a leader in the push to popularize Korean literature in Japan. Her joint translation with Jae-hun Hyun of Park’s Castella won 2015’s inaugural Japan Translation Award. The Sammi Superstars’ Last Fan Club is a thoroughly engaging novel, loved by readers. As readers across the world discover Park Min-gyu’s works, their universality will only grow clearer.
by Ken Nishizaki
Author and Translator