Two estranged Korean brothers weather their differences to rediscover their blood bond in martial arts instructor Cho’s debut novel.
Recent college graduate Steve Lee learns of his older brother Charlie’s drug troubles through a concerned friend and, with his father Jang’s help, he sets out to bring him back to their home in Massachusetts. When they, along with Charlie’s friend Benny, finally confront Charlie after a lengthy search, he’s aggressive toward them, provoking fistfights and shouting matches. The narrative adds texture and characterization as it effectively flickers between the past and present; Cho weaves the Lee family history into the story with flashbacks depicting Steve and Charlie’s harsh, hardscrabble childhood in Korea; their sexist father’s relentless abuse of their mother, Jasmine; and Charlie’s progression from rebellious, erratic behavior as a youth to his later self-destructive tendencies and opportunistic business scams. Also integral to the story is the Lees’ immigration from war-ravaged Korea to a city in New England. Cho writes in plainspoken, readable prose which serves the narrative well. Instead of melodramatic, overwrought episodes of a family in turmoil, he offers restrained chapters with vivid imagery from the Lee family members’ history, highlighting their strife and enduring spirit. He also addresses the brothers’ love-hate relationship and their desperate need to keep the family unit together. The story is flush with themes of belonging, heritage, honor, and brotherly solidarity, and it aligns closely with the author’s own life journey. Cho’s lean, concise novel gets to the heart of the immigrant family experience in a new world that’s full of trouble and temptation. The conclusion is satisfying and poignant, if a bit rushed; Cho would likely have served readers better by taking more time in reaching it.
A slim but potent slice of Korean history, told through the lives of a troubled family.