In Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, Lenny, a man rapidly approaching 40 but wanting desperately to live forever, falls in love with Eunice, a clothes-obsessed 24-year-old who thinks Lenny looks like a rhesus monkey. The book goes back and forth between Lenny's journal entries and Eunice's email and IM exchanges, showing their very different reactions to what happens between and around them as they start a relationship in a politically, economically, and technologically volatile world. It's set sometime within the next 50 years, when corporations and nations are synonymous, books are rotting and smelly, clothes are see-through, and everyone carries around devices that keep them connected to the internet (but not to each other) at all times. Basically, it's a dystopian love story in a dystopian near-future.
One girl in my book club complained that the book takes on too many issues: she thought that any one of those themes I just listed could be a book unto itself, and the relationship between Eunice and Lenny gets in the way of Shteyngart exploring those themes, or the themes get in the way of Shteyngart exploring the relationship. I disagree with her; I think the real pleasure of reading this book was seeing how Lenny and Eunice's feelings for each other and for their families eclipse everything else in their worlds. The narration is entirely through their personal journals and emails; yuan-pegged dollars and political uprisings take a backburner to Lenny and Eunice's feelings for each other not because Shteyngart can't juggle all of those elements, but because to these lonely people, the attempt to really connect with each other is more important. The book seems to say that though the society around them discourages interpersonal connections or emotions, these things are a necessary part of human experience. No matter how strange or different society becomes, we will always have the same feelings, the same emotional needs.
My description of the book makes it sound much heavier than it is. Though there are heavy themes, the writing is very light, with a lot of humor. Shteyngart's humor is sometimes slapstick, sometimes dark, sometimes subtle, and sometimes absurd. (I had to use the word "absurd" somewhere in here; he's the author of Absurdistan.) There's a funny "trailer" for the book on YouTube, which isn't really about the book at all.
Super Sad True Love Story shows that while basic human connections may have broken down in society, people still yearn for interpersonal relationships--both romantic and familial. Both Eunice and Lenny think about and talk to their families often. Eunice and her family, in their emails, often mention her Korean mother's home cooking, which is why I decided to write about this book for this entry: one of the foods that reminds Eunice of home is dduk, which is one of my favorite foods to work with.
"Dduk" (also spelled duk, tteok, etc) is usually translated as "rice cakes," but this is misleading. Dduk is more like a thick rice pasta; it is made from pounded rice flour combined with water to produce various shapes. Usually dduk comes as slightly-larger-than-finger-sized tubes, but my favorite shape is the quarter-inch-thick ovals. You can find dduk at korean or chinese markets, usually in the fridge but sometimes in the freezer section. They are almost always vacuum-packed. The last time I looked, I even found brown-rice dduk! (This was really exciting, since refined grains are on the "sometimes foods" list for me.) Store them in your fridge, and if you don't use the whole package at once, store the remainder in the freezer. Package directions may vary, but mostly you just throw them in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes, or if you're adding them to soup, add in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Dduk is often served stir fried (dduk bok ki) or in soup (dduk gook). I prefer it stir-fried, because it soaks up sauces so well. For a quick meal, you can saute cooked dduk in any stir-fry sauce and add veggies. But I prefer to have dduk as a side dish. I also prefer the sliced dduk, but which kind you use is up to you.
|Dduk bok ki with seitan and zucchini and a side salad.|
Nightshade-free Dduk bok ki
Dduk hardens when refrigerated, so you want to avoid having leftovers. This makes 2 generous side servings, or 3 medium ones (for me, "medium" is the serving in the picture with the seitan, above).
1/2 package (1 lb) dduk (I like the sliced kind, but the tube-looking ones are more traditional)
1/4 C soy sauce
1 Tbsp agave (or 4 tsp brown sugar)
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 1-inch piece of ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 to 1 tsp black or sizchuan pepper, depending on how much heat you want
2 tsp canola (or vegetable) oil
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While it's heating, combine all of the other ingredients except the canola oil in a medium-sized bowl. Mix well.
When the water boils, cook the dduk according to package directions. (If there aren't directions, plop it in the boiling water and let it boil for 3-5 minutes. Stab one with a fork at 3 minutes, and if the center is still hard, give it another couple minutes. If not, it's done.) Drain it, then run cold water over it and break up any that have stuck together.
Heat the canola oil in a wok or a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the dduk.
Now pour the sauce over top of the dduk and cook 5-10 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed, stirring often. Test to see if it needs anything; you may want to add a little more sweetener or a little more soy sauce, depending on your tastes. Serve as a side dish to any korean- or chinese-themed meal, or as a delicious late-night snack.