A former record executive, a young administrator, and two American expatriates cross paths teaching English in South Korea in 2002.
In this novel, Zerndt (The Tree Poachers and Other Stories, 2016, etc.) switches among three narrators: Moon, who left a high-powered job in the music industry to deal with his alcoholism; Yun-ji, who works and goes to school, dreaming of opening her own internet cafe; and Billie, an American, who, along with her boyfriend, Joe, has come to South Korea to teach English in the school where Moon and Yun-ji work. The three interact frequently, but remain in their own worlds, never learning that although their backgrounds are different, they are united by ambivalent feelings about parenthood and a complicated relationship with alcohol. The main characters’ story arcs take place against a backdrop of tense relations between the United States and South Korea following the killing of two young girls by an American tank—Billie and Yun-ji become pregnant, Moon takes music lessons from Joe and develops a relationship with his toddler son, and Billie and Joe’s deceptions cause problems for their overseas adventure. The story is a quiet one, with most of the narrative taking place within the characters’ minds, but the interpersonal conflicts are sharply realized, driving the plot and bringing the narrative to life. The prose is mixed, sprinkled with clever turns of phrase (“She was a striking woman, though. And by ‘striking’ I mean she had the air of someone who might just hit you if you so much as looked at her the wrong way”) and burdened with choppy sentences and fragments (“Pusan National University. That was where Moon had met his wife. She’d been taking classes to be a nurse. The first time he saw her was at a bus stop”). But the characters are thoroughly engrossing—even self-centered Billie becomes sympathetic as she struggles to connect with a classroom of rambunctious children—and readers will likely keep turning pages to find out what happens in the book’s emotionally satisfying conclusion.
An engaging, character-driven tale set in South Korea.