What is your book about?
About nothing and everything.
Why did you write this novel?
I started writing Deli Ideology out of need and fear. I needed to do something in 2010 to keep my fears at bay, so I started writing a book. My fears began the year I started undergrad in 2005, when people were blaming the fall of the economy on Bush and telling us college students how fucked we were. Shortly after I graduated and a year after Obama took office, the recession was full on. I went away for a year on a research grant. During that year, my parents’ small business had declared bankruptcy and their house received notice for foreclosure. As soon as I returned, I faced massive debt from student loans which I was supposed to begin paying off immediately, but was still unemployed. These were my fears at the time. I needed something to ground me. Writing a book helped immensely.
What were you trying to achieve while writing this book?
I felt like all my experiences at the time were all so precious, and slipping away from me fast. I was on a neurotic rampage to get somewhere as fast as I could without knowing where it was exactly. I just had a sense of what it was near (thought, imagination). I think I was going nuts because I wasn’t in the habit of trusting myself just yet. As of now, the reason why I wrote this book is primarily for myself, and if others can find a way to relate, that’d be a tremendous bonus to what I wanted to achieve.
Who or what are you critiquing in this book?
I am critiquing everyone but the twenty-something-year-olds; all the people in a generation of 35 and up have some snide or negative comment on how the youth today don’t have any direction or future because they are so detached, cynical and irresponsible. It’s no coincidence that the time this book is set in are the weekend dates August 21, 2010 and August 22, 2010 just days after Robin Marantz Henig’s offensive article “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” was published in the New York Times. In it she pressures 20-somethings with a social responsibility that upholds a system where the younger generation owes the older generation something because the older generation has done its part in rearing the younger generation into a future that is firm and dependable in order to keep the system going, but fact is, the older generation has failed the younger one. Certain individuals of the older generation have let us down by fucking up our economy and our lives. I found Henig’s article pretty lousy because she reduced me and my peers to a certain kind of people–the uncaring kind–unthinking, unfeeling and without remorse. She was unwilling to consider how most of us were suffering due to the force of economic circumstance. Some of my writing is a reaction to that article.
I critique other things, too, such as a general unwillingness of the American mainstream to open its brains up to more than just what the media has compartmentalized and reduced for it to ingest when it comes to faces and lives belonging to those different from just the standard, healthy American White. I also critique America’s consistent misogyny that seems to have no answer for its abuses–how a Korean American woman like LJ can’t walk the streets or stand in a store without being sexually harassed by strangers just by being who she is–a Korean American woman. I also critique LJ for having big ambitions and trying to get to where she’s going as soon as she possibly can and getting frustrated at herself and others around her because it isn’t happening on her time.
It’s a novel, and it’s critiquing a lot of things. In any case, I can’t really generate a bullet point of every single theme included in this book. They’re infinite, ranging from small to big ideas.
Do you have a stance for diversifying readers’ palates?
Yes–and especially in the field I am somewhat linked to: modern Korean literature in translation. Many friends around me today who are aware of my writing and translation efforts still don’t bother asking to read Korean books in translation. I don’t blame them, but I do question why they’re not willing to try and dig deeper than just what they see around them (the Great Literary Canons), which is to say that they devote themselves to what has been handed to them, predetermined, stamped and approved as “great”–spoon fed into thinking so by an expensive education and major publishing houses that have a big ass budget for press and advertising. Willing readers can find more of themselves as deep and thinking persons in not just Korean books in translation but in other books written by people of color both here and outside of the US.
We need to encourage these efforts in one another, otherwise structural racism will continue to keep us quiet, numb, narrow-minded and as dumb as cows (if not repressed and angry). That kind of racism is deadly because it can go undetected or unnoticed by many while quietly dwindling our conception of the world into an incredibly small thing. But our world is not small. It is enormous. It will take many lifetimes to understand just a sliver of it, but that process is both fun and painful–ultimately, good. Why this isn’t so fucking obvious to some depresses the living bejesus out of me.
What do you want your readers to take away from this book?
I’d like my readers to discover at least one new thing in my book that they haven’t thought about or seen before. If that could happen, there would be no greater up for me.
Share a fun fact.
Right after firefighters, cashiers have the highest rate of job-related deaths.