A review of

Dance Dance Revolution

by Cathy Park Hong

Central question: What happens after the revolution has been televised?
Format: 128 pp., cloth; Size: 5 ½" x 8 ½"; Price: $23.95; Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Editor: Jill Bialosky; Book design: Anna Oler; Typefaces: Fournier and Futura; Specialized dictionaries the author consulted while writing the book: The Official Dancehall Dictionary, Australian Slang Dictionary; Official number of protesters killed during the Kwangju rebellion: approx. two hundred; Unofficial number: approx. two thousand; Book that changed the author’s life when younger: Patricia Bosworth’s biography of Diane Arbus; Representative lines: “en me amprage / hole, I’s shotput mine / nihilent gallicry”

As prior maps to past and future are increasingly rendered obsolete, and time itself comes to be defined by its interruption, it’s not surprising that fragments frequently serve to narrate the now. Winner of the 2006 Barnard Women Poets Prize, Cathy Park Hong’s ambitious second book of poetry, Dance Dance Revolution, contains at least three fractured yet interwoven stories. The primary one is told by a character known as the “Guide,” who outlines the major events of her life to a “Historian,” who in turn presents their encounter in a transcription sprinkled with his annotations and excerpts from his memoir.

The Guide was born in South Korea and helped lead the 1980 Kwangju rebellion against General Chun Du-Hwan’s military rule. After spending time in a penal colony, she moved to the “Desert,” which consists primarily of theme hotels modeled on other cities (think Las Vegas meets Blade Runner’s L.A.). After working as a housekeeper, she eventually becomes a tourist guide, at which point the Historian comes to interview her. Much less is known about the Historian. He attended various boarding schools, witnessed civil war in Sierra Leone, and has a difficult relationship with his father (as does the Guide with hers). But describing Hong’s book this way is a bit like saying Ulysses is about a guy walking around Dublin one day. The narrative is a skeleton for a polyglot explosion of unique individual and broader social concerns.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Alan Gilbert

Alan Gilbert is the author of Another Future: Poetry and Art in a Postmodern Twilight. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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