Vaseline Buddha


By Jung Young Moon
Translated from the Korean by Yewon Jung

A tour-de-force in automatic writing from South Korea’s eccentric, award-winning contemporary master delves into subconscious worlds blending reality and imagination.

Published: July 5, 2016

Paperback: 9781941920343
Ebook: 9781941920350



The funeral of a goldfish named Kierkegaard, the sleepless narrator thwarting a would-be thief outside his moonlit window, a night spent with rats in a Paris hotel—Jung Young Moon, often described as Korea’s answer to Kafka and Beckett, lets his mind wander in this masterpiece of automatic writing, delving into the subconscious and the imagination to explore the very nature of reality.

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One day, when the night was giving way to dawn and everything was still immersed in darkness, I sat on a windowsill in the house I lived in, unable to sleep, thinking vaguely that I would write a story. I didn’t know at all where or what the story, if it could be called a story, would head toward, and neither did I want to know in advance, and for the time being, there was nothing that told me where or what. So for the time being, I was right to think that it could turn into a story, but it was possible that it wouldn’t turn into a story at all.

Anyhow, something happened a little before I began thinking such things, something so trivial that you could hardly say that anything had happened at all; I heard a very small sound coming from outside the kitchen window, and straining my ears for the sound for a moment, I thought it was the sound of raindrops, but it didn’t continue at regular intervals like the sound of raindrops. After a little while, I went to the bedroom windowsill and looked out the window through the curtains but it wasn’t raining, and with a certain thought in my mind, I went to the kitchen where the sound had come from, and hid myself behind a wall, and saw someone climbing up toward my bedroom window. It seemed that he was climbing up the gas pipes, and he looked like a moving shadow. It was an astonishing sight but I didn’t cry out because I felt as if I were dreaming. He was taking great care not to wake the person inside, whom he thought was sound asleep.
After a little while, I saw him trying to open the window, and I stuck my face out quietly so as not to startle him, but at that moment he saw my face and was so startled that he fell to the ground. I hadn’t had the slightest intention of startling him, so I felt terrible, as if I had made him fall even though I hadn’t, and above all, I wondered if he was all right, having fallen to the ground. He picked himself up at once, but was limping slightly, probably with a strained ankle, and went across the small yard and tried to climb over the wall which wasn’t so high, which didn’t look easy, either. I wished I could help him climb over the wall by giving him a leg-up. After several attempts, he finally clambered up the wall and disappeared into the darkness after throwing one last look in my direction, but I couldn’t tell if he looked at me with reproach as he disappeared into the darkness.


“The novel raises questions about story, and how stories are created. It muses on where thoughts come from, how they act on us, and how to live a life that doesn’t take itself too seriously, while still earnestly engaging with the world. Jung’s work is as a hybrid of fiction, journal, and philosophical aphorisms. It begins in a place where meaning is of little concern, and ends by asking the reader to build up her own meaning while enjoying Jung’s fragments for the small, precious pleasures they provide.” — John W.W. Zeiser, Los Angeles Review of Books

“reading “Vaseline Buddha” feels like watching a magician who explains his trick as he performs it and yet still mesmerizes you with his sleight of hand. You simultaneously enter the dream and wake from it…This resistance underpinning the entire exercise makes Jung an heir to Polish novelist Witold Gombrowicz, who understood that writing is the documentation of a dance the writer does between form and chaos.” — Tyler Malone, Los Angeles Times

“Vaseline Buddha is not your everyday narrative, but if you, like the narrator of this intriguing story, are ‘a strange person who’s pleased by strange things’ you will undoubtedly love this work” — Kalau Almony, Reading in Translation

“Jung Young Moon’s work is remarkable for its eccentric modes of thought and how it tests the limits of the novel and our notions of what fiction can do. It looks beyond the basic form and asks important secondary questions of where fiction is left to go. It also reveals crisply the cryptic nature of everyday life, which if examined with deep seriousness, will inevitably lead to deep absurdity—and that makes its futility somewhat pleasing.” — Jason De Young, Numero Cinq Magazine

“Jung… offers an audacious discourse on creativity, presenting readers with a labyrinth of ideas, images, suggestions, and observations all waiting and available to individual interpretation.” — Library Journal

“The book plays directly to the central questions of the act of writing: Should writing be driven by order or chaos? Should it structure the universe or reflect its seeming randomness? Is the imposition of form a virtue of a vice? On that front, it feels akin to writers like Gombrowicz and Beckett.” — Tyler Malone, as part of Literary Hub‘s “21 Books to Read in July 2016”

“quite nicely wending stream, of consciousness and more . . .Vaseline Buddha is a navel-gazing, writing-about-writing kind of book, of a fairly familiar sort, but the amiable tone and extensive reach make it a quite enjoyable example of the genre. . .Quite good fun, with some very nice bits.” — Michael Orthofer, The Complete Review

“Surreal landscapes, automatic writing, and Kafka comparisons? Our interest is piqued by this book, yes indeed.” — Vol. 1 Brooklyn, July 2016 Books Preview

“We wade into these… streams of consciousness and are swept away in a current of fluid thought, as sensation and ideation merge into a movement of molecules, a tide in perpetual flux.” — Tyler Malone, Literary Hub

“If someone in the future asks in frustration, “What has Korean literature been up to?” We can quietly hand him Vaseline Buddha.” — Pak Mingyu (novelist)

“Reality and fantasy, memories and dreams, Asia and Europe, all are equal partners in this literary meditation” — Christoph Hartner, Crown Newspaper (Germany)

“One enters into a kind of serenity when we delve into the book. I find that eccentrics like [Jung] are needed in literature.” — Achim Stanislawski, SWR 2