An affecting if uneven debut in which a Korean girl, newly immigrated to the US, struggles to transcend the chaos of a strange land and of a violent, overstressed family. Ever since Ahn Joo arrived in Arlington, Virginia, with her parents and younger brother, her parents have fought unceasingly about her father's drinking and her mother's lack of respect. It's true, Ahn Joo realizes, that her father contradicts the stereotype of the hardworking Korean immigrant who opens a grocery and proceeds to grow rich in America. Fleeing an abusive father of his own in Korea rather than moving to the US in pursuit of wealth, he lacks ambition and seems happy with his welding job. Still, even eight-year-old Ahn Joo is unprepared for her mother's extreme reaction to her husband's laziness: One day, as Ahn Joo is walking home from school, she sees her mother, with her son in tow, fleeing home in a cab with the puzzling name ``Reliable'' painted on the door. Entering their apartment, Ahn Joo finds a note from her mother promising to come back for her someday, but as the years go by and her mother never calls or writes, the girl is left alone to face adolescence, care for her father, and puzzle out her family's mysteries. The author deftly evokes such vivid moments as Ahn Joo's embarrassment when her father takes over a snack cart in Washington, and her depiction of her heroine's struggle to come to terms with a new land—as well as of the push-pull relationship between father and daughter—are both memorable and moving. In the end, though, the lack of any real catharsis or resolution renders the parts greater than the whole.
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