A slim but potent slice of Korean history, told through the lives of a troubled family.

American Water Tears: A Grandmaster's Story

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.   

Pub Date: June 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5347-1759-6

Page Count: 164

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2016

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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