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By Giacomo Lee
Signal 8 Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
I have to admit, while I was reading Giacomo Lee's Funereal recently, it actually reminded me a lot of a book that CCLaP itself published a couple of years ago, Scott Abrahams' Turtle and Dam; not because of any plot similarities (to be clear, the books have very different storylines), but because they're both great examples of white Westerners writing convincingly about young people in contemporary Asia, with Lee's particular story taking place in right-this-second South Korea (or just "Korea" as it's known in the book, an early sign that we are now looking at this country from the standpoint of a local instead of a foreign visitor).
One of those books that seems to touch on every single thing about Asian culture we Americans find strange, at its heart it's the tale of mid-twenties slacker Soobin Shin, a wannabe indie-rock musician and unemployed marketing major currently working at a doughnut shop in a neighborhood in Seoul known specifically for all its plastic surgeons; the story really takes off when she discovers that one of their regular slovenly customers has just started a new business dedicated to "radical psychotherapy," in which despondent and suicidal clients are given an actual funeral with their actual friends in attendance, and where they lie in an actual coffin for hours at a time, under the belief that it will help them understand the true joys of life without the family shame of seeing an actual psychologist.
This is the ingenious joy of this book in a nutshell -- that this odd little detail helps us understand just what a shameful thing it still is in Korea to admit that one is seeing a medical therapist -- and essentially this entire novel is 228 pages of that, strange little stories about Soobin's surreal life as the new marketing director of "OneLife," which each serve as another way for us as Westerners to examine such bizarre (in our eyes) Asian phenomenon as K-pop, doomsday cults, love hotels, sexual submissiveness in corporate culture, karaoke bars as "brothel lite"s, and a lot more. A book that just almost dips into science-fiction at times, although still feeling like we're simply getting a glimpse at the ultra-cutting-edge elements of Korean life that most of us just don't know about, there's a good reason that Lee is getting compared left and right these days to people like David Mitchell and William Gibson (and has become the latest obsession of the brilliantly weird geniuses at Boing Boing, no small feat); and Funereal comes strongly recommended to those who are specifically into these kinds of stories, and especially those who want to understand hipster Asia better precisely through the weird little details that make it seem like some bizarro genre story.
Out of 10: 9.7