Reading Yongsoo Park’s BoyGenius takes the reader on a ride down what Freud would have labeled the “royal road to the subconscious.” Transported by a magical blend of metaphor, illumination, and synergy, the plot drives forward down highways of illusion, twisting and turning through an elusive landscape of the bizarre. It is an Odyssey the likes of which has never before been witnessed or chronicled.
Proof that language is infinitely richer than the sum of its words, Yongsoo Park forces a sense of hyper-reality upon the reader by infusing current events with fantastical plotlines. If success in fiction can be defined by the suspension of belief, Parks’s victory is assured.
Described as a “picaresque odyssey, a hallucinatory tale”, BoyGenius is the story of a boy who “wages a clandestine guerilla war” against all symbols of authority. As a young child, BoyGenius is celebrated and revered by all citizens when, at age three, His Excellency launches the Great Search for Genius Campaign. BoyGenius’s score, the highest in the country, brings him stardom and fame as he becomes host of The Boy Genius Hour (brought to the people by Lotte Confectioners and Haitai Detergent.) BoyGenius stars alongside Choco Joe, an American G.I. “whose skin was black and glistening as the shiniest eggplant.” BoyGenius suspects his friend Choco Joe is a CIA operative working in South Korea.
In the beginning there was His Excellency the Most Honorable President Park, who created the heavens and the earth and saw that it was good. Then came the dragon, not an overweight Western dragon, but a magnificent fire-breathing dragon of the Orient, born of a snake who, through sheer will and stubbornness, outslithered death for 5,000 years. Nine months before my birth, Father dreamt that just such a dragon soared out of the East Korean Sea, flew six circles above Mount Nam, then disappeared under Mother’s satin hanbok.
BoyGenius falls from grace, immigrates to America with his parents, and ends up “in a ramshackle yellow-brick tenement owned by Mordechai Rubinstein, a third-generation Ukrainian Jew whose flair for irony had moved him to name the dwelling the King George Luxury Apartments. Located smack in the middle of Bogota, an insignificant fiefdom that reeked of urine and decay in the periphery of the Big Apple…” Bogota’s main characters, “Third World detritus,” are BoyGenius’s new friends and allies as he begins his quest to avenge his “BoyGenius” title and subsequently wreak havoc against his oppressors.
“I’m mad, you’re mad, we’re all mad here.”
Were I an English professor, I would assign a paper to my students comparing Alice in Wonderland to BoyGenius. This is not to imply that Park is in any way mimicking Lewis Carroll. Park and Carroll are able to transform the fantastic into the real in such a way that the reader accepts any and all devices spewing from the depths of the writer’s nimble minds.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’
`What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. `Explain yourself!’
`I can’t explain MYSELF, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, `because I’m not myself, you see.’
—Alice in Wonderland
Park’s characters, like the Caterpillar and the Mad Hatter, are never quite themselves. Once BoyGenius settles into the King George Luxury Apartments, he becomes a gang member.
Rex and his gang of wild children lived in a forgotten three-acre lot that lay adjacent to the railroad tracks. The forsaken parcel of real estate had been appropriated from Bogota’s Transportation Authority and was covered with jagged rocks, broken bottles, old tires, and a thousand strains of mutant weeds that were immune to the deluge of pesticides that poured down weekly from an unmarked helicopter that belonged to Bogota’s Secret Police, the biggest and most ruthless gang in town.
At first, I was reluctant to take Rex and his gang at their word that they were, indeed, clever wild dogs who had learned to masquerade as children, but the more I got to know them, the more I saw that they were actually telling the truth.
Like a movie trailer with too much information, the details of this book should not be revealed in a review. Any more would spoil the surprises that slam off every page, amazing the reader with unimaginable twists and turns. Well, someone imagined it, Yongsoo Park did and I salute him. BoyGenius descends down a rabbit hole and enters another dimension, an alternate reality complete with the LA riots, General MacArthur, computer software consulting firms, and even the belly of a whale.
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