The novel is a celebration of the clarity in the chaos that life offers. Sure “Paris Is a Party, Paris Is a Ghost” could be categorized as a comedy if you were to categorize the library shelves, but it is one of the most darkly comic pieces ever. David Hoon Kim shows brilliant writing skills in this debut novel of his. We all are haunted by the ghost of someone or something. Some bygones do not always maintain the conventional rules of bygones. They do not always dissolve into the past and remain there. The narrator in Kim’s novel suffers from a series of such bygones, among which there is one particularly insistent one- the absence of his girlfriend. The story follows the journey of Henrik Blatand, the narrator of the novel, as he makes his way through the crowd of people in pursuit of the goals of their lives, while he struggles to find his.
Henrik has always had trouble fitting in. He is a wanderer. He is confused. Everything starting from his name to his personality stands as a barrier between him and sorted life. He is no stranger to the confused stares of people when he introduces himself. They wonder why they are looking at an Asian face. Henrik’s personality does not help either. He takes a keen interest in people. It is an exceptional penchant for following people as they walk through life. Everything starting from the person without a boarding ticket in the bus to the perils of his own life draws his attention.
Henrik is energetic in a way that he can start working on new things and travel towards excellence at a brisk pace. However, our protagonist faces trouble in completing the tasks that he takes up. In fact, his current job of a translator is a result of his failure at completing his thesis work. The entire story is also a presentation of this floor the character of the narrator.
The novel is divided into three sections- Fumiko, Before Fumiko and After Fumiko. Fumiko is Henrik’s girlfriend, following whose death Henrik starts to figure out who he really is and his life in general. He is basically a troubled soul. He has a sensitive mind which is prone to confusion and spoils at every little thing that life throws his way. He thinks- maybe a little too much at times. Following Fumiko’s absence, he starts seeing her at places- in the subway, on roads, and so on. This makes Henrik arrive at the realization that the city is filled with ghosts- not the literal ones as shown in horror films, but the ghosts of memories and lives and their unfinished businesses, that they had ardently hoped to have fulfilled when living.
Henrik too has unfinished wishes. He has a void within himself which he realizes via his goddaughter Gem. He starts to assemble the pieces that he is, slowly and one by one. The novel does not stick to any one particular plotline though. It shows Henrik’s life as it happens to him and as he resolves it.
Henrik is made aware of his foreignness in a variety of ways at a variety of places throughout the novel. He suffers dislocation owing to his surroundings where he struggles to find a place among the English and the Koreans and fails repeatedly. He is like a tour guide, who repeatedly gets lost in the labyrinth of life, but in the process finds various other places worth wandering through.
The novel has high chances of getting mistaken as just another immigrant’s view of life in foreign lands, but the identity crisis that Henrik suffers is much more deep-rooted than just that. He is still figuring out life. The death of his love interest serves as the crux to his story. The sudden absence of Fumiko makes him explore himself in depth. He realizes his character, its flaws, and its dilemmas. There are times when he feels completely lost, but soon swims his way to the stability of a conclusive shore.
The primary plot of the story is that of an unfinished love story and the struggles of an immigrant. However, the struggles of Henrik have a universal appeal as well. It is a story of lost and found. A sensitive soul is lost in the busy everyday world searching for a place where he belongs and in the process learns newer things about himself, understands bends in his character and voids that his character yearned to fill, that he never thought he had.
Kim beautifully depicts his characters. He uses a personal story and puts it on a universal pedestal. The story is composed of tangents and repeatedly shifts from the main storyline to depict anecdotes that enrich the character of the protagonist, making the readers get well acquainted with the character. There is a certain easiness and simplicity in the flow of the novel that never compromises with the serious personal dislocation depicted in the novel. The sentences are straightforward, making the story easy to grasp, presenting an intense underlying concept that a sensitive reader would never miss.
These tangents can sometimes cause confusion in the readers’ minds making it difficult for them to follow the story. However, these are on more occasions intentional. These tangents serve to bring the character of the narrator, Henrik, into a brighter light. It shows the inadequacy that Henrik suffers in maintaining consistency in life, therefore getting lost at times. These tangents could be referred to as the Horcruxes of the novel- they hold the soul of the novel and yet at times serve as major drawbacks in the reading experience of the same.
If you like works of contemporary authors then this would be a good inclusion on your shelf. “Paris Is a Party, Paris Is a Ghost” explores the psychological selves of the character and discusses the same in a universal light. The novel is surely worth a read.