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Desperate Family Embarks on Trip for Hope

Posted May. 07, 2005 00:19,   


◇ Desperate Family Embarks on Trip for Hope (Original title: Monkey Dancing)/ Written by Daniel Glick • Translated by Jeong Myeong-jin/ 496 pages • 10,500 won • Published by Sejong Books

Devoted wife and mother, Rebecca (pseudonym), filed for divorce out of the blue. At middle age, she realized her homosexuality and traveled 1,600 kilometers in search of a new girlfriend, leaving her pubescent son Kolya, nine-year-old daughter Zoe, and the mid-40s author behind.

What can the author do now? Although he has frequents bouts of murderous fury, he asks himself, “Can life work without Rebecca?” It is incomprehensible that his wife, at that age, could abandon her family to discover her sexual identity. His son is also in disbelief. Events take a turn for the worst when the brother that the writer depended on is diagnosed with breast cancer and passes away.

The writer decides to embark on a five-month “ecosystem trip” with his children after these series of unfortunate events. The vacation is a journey of hope, to gather the fragments of the remaining family. Saying, “I need a chance to know my children, and they need a chance to know me,” he hopes they will caress and heal each other’s deep wounds during the trip.

The itinerary treks through Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, and Nepal. In these locales, they glean precious experiences with rare beasts. The most envious experience for readers, however, is the way the characters come to an understanding by reaching out to each other’s hearts.

While traveling, Zoe accuses her father of “not accepting us for who we are, but wishing we were something other than ourselves.” She writes down “shut up,” “you fat-ass pig,” and all the hurtful words her father had hurled at her. The father awakens and opens his eyes to his daughter for the first time.

The fact that the teenage son Kolya is delirious with sexual fantasies about Britney Spears and that he always speaks his mind are things that the author gets to know during the trip. Kolya also asks his Dad when his mother first became acquainted with “that lady.”

The author writes that through this process, “we licked each other’s wounds and embraced each other to the best of our strength.”

The highlight of this family trip is the “monkey dancing.” This is also the title of the book, published in 2003. On a camping excursion on an Australian island, they transform into primitive creatures on the beach. Underneath the starlight of the nighttime sky, they fling off their clothes and imitate monkeys, initiating a passionate dance.

Says the author, “As I picked up speed, I emptied my heart of as much greed as possible and freed myself from mental oppression,” and remarks, “We were circling the world and dancing the Monkey Dance.” The Monkey Dance was a ritual for freedom through the getaway and symbolized the start of a new life.

Besides the travel journal with his kids, he relives the “poop swim (dipping one’s body into the river and excreting),” and interlaces his brother’s memories with his and his wife’s honeymoon and other anecdotes, rekindling the fierce bonds between the family.

The author is a journalist with “Newsweek” and is a Washington correspondent. This book weaves the beads of travel, observation, and memories that breathe life into the pages. The author also reports on the endangered environment, through his knowledge of the ecosystem and vivid illustrations. One should note, however, that the translated title, “Desperate Family,” supposedly cited from a Korean drama, is overly aggressive for the tender love of this family.

Yeub Heo heo@donga.com