Published by Picador on March 15, 2015
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Contemporary, Thriller, Adult
Format: Print, Hardcover
Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future.
A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighbourhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage—private tutors, expensive hobbies—but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help. Yet when an act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and he’s compelled to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves living under the same roof. Tensions quickly mount as Kyung’s proximity to his parents forces old feelings of guilt and anger to the surface, along with a terrible and persistent question: how can he ever be a good husband, father, and son when he never knew affection as a child?
This book starts off with the Cho family: Kyung — a 36 year old Korean man, Gillian — a Caucasian woman of Irish decent, and their son Ethan in their home, preparing for a visit from a real estate agent. Kyung is a 36 year old biology professor who can’t afford the house they are currently living in. His parents, Mae and Jin, reside in the wealthier neighbourhood near Kyung and Gillian, but from the outset, realize that the relationship between them is complicated and strained. This book was a really honest and raw account of the struggles of the Cho family. It was beautifully written. I wouldn’t say it was enjoyable, it deals with really difficult subject matter, but it’s really enthralling. It’s a sort of mystery/thriller. Kyung sees his mother bruised and bloody walking through his backyard looking for his help. From there, the mysteries unfold.
These characters aren’t really likeable, but that’s the point of them. We as humans make decisions all the time, and often these decisions are terrible. We hurt people who are close to us. These characters are definitely flawed individuals, and the author writes them expertly. You get to know the characters gradually as you read this book, but Yun is able to throw you for a loop. You think you know something about them, and then all of a sudden there’s a twist, and we find out something else. I felt like this was such a good way to write realistic characters. They were three-dimensional and complex, and there was definitely some character development.
For a debut novel, the writing evokes such feeling. It is so visceral and raw, and it really keeps you invested. You may not like the characters, I know I didn’t like them a lot of the time, Though the mystery of what happens to Mae is a large part of the story, most of it is character-driven. The author explores so many different themes — immigration, race, class, etc. Mae and Jin immigrated to the US to have a better life, but that doesn’t mean their lives were easier. The entire family dealt with the pressure to assimilate to American Culture, and keep their Korean culture. The author makes you want to find out more about them and what caused their relationships to be so broken and fractured, you want to know more about them.
Kyung has kind of repressed his memories of his childhood, and he has a lot of resentment towards his father because he abused Kyung’s mother. Later on in the novel, Kyung remembers that while Jin abused Mae, Mae took her frustrations out on Kyung, and abused him. This
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, because like I said, it is a very character-driven novel, but I will say that the things you learn about the characters, and the choices that they make throughout the novel will frustrate you. Kyung crumbles under the pressure of being in debt, and all the members of the Cho family struggle to come to terms with the past and forgive each other. They have a very hard time showing affection, given the things that have happened between them. I don’t know if I would say that I enjoyed this novel, given the subject matter, but it was wonderfully written.
I will definitely be on the look out for anything Jung Yun publishes next because she’s amazing! Let me know if you’ve read it, or if you’re interested in reading it. Also, if you’d like to purchase this book, feel free to do so through my Book Depository affiliate link here.