Jack Saebyok Jung at The Quarterly Conversation:
Translating one of the most experimental novels to come out from South Korea in recent memory is no easy task, and Yewon Jung’s translation dutifully recreates Jung Young Moon’s sustained deconstruction of sentences and narratives. Still, there are certain basic differences between English and Korean grammar that have yet to be conveyed successfully by any English translator of Korean language. The hallmark of Jung Young Moon’s style in Korean is that his words are almost always plain spoken, and the repetitions feel natural and quick to grasp. The real difficulty in translating Jung Young Moon is in how he uses the built-in ambiguity of pronouns and tense in Korean syntax. Korean allows the syntactic subject to be omitted from the sentence, especially when that subject is obvious. There is no “it is raining” in Korean, there is only “raining.” Thus, pronouns are hardly ever used unless they are there to stress or embellish a certain point. In the case of Vaseline Buddha in which the narrator and the author are two distinct entities, the natural ambiguity of Korean sentences suddenly becomes a key component in creating uncertainty as to the identity of the speaker at any given moment. Korean grammar leads the reader to subconsciously fill in the blanks so to speak, and by foregrounding this subconscious mechanic in his prose, Jung forces the reader to confront the oddness of the narrator’s shifting identity. This is possible not simply because the narrator is saying that he is many different things but because the very language he uses keeps his identity ambiguous.