In this compact debut novel, a young woman receives a swift education in love, violence, and the politics of 1980s Korea.
Yoona’s childhood as a first-generation Korean-American was a quiet attempt at normalcy, streaked with guilt, the result of her father’s frequent physical abuse of her mother (and Yoona’s sense that she should have done something to protect her). The summer before Yoona leaves her small New York hometown to attend college, she participates in a multiweek student tour of South Korea, where she meets Jaesung and Lloyd, two Korean-American boys with strong political convictions. Though she is wary of emotional attachment, Yoona falls hard for Jaesung and warms to the unsettlingly radical Lloyd. She is rewarded cruelly for both. Upon starting her freshman year of college, Yoona learns that Jaesung and Lloyd, on their way to a meeting, were in a car accident; Jaesung was killed. Lloyd returns to the States, unhinged, and embroils Yoona in his fantasy: that Jaesung is still alive, captured by militants, and in need of rescue. Yoona participates in the fantasy for some time, but when she finally tries to distance herself from Lloyd, he holds her and three friends hostage in her dorm room at gunpoint. This hostage situation is, in fact, the frame for the entire novel, and it’s not just the horrible suspense in that room that gives the story tension. Han keeps the lens tight on Yoona’s increasingly shaky perspective, so despite Yoona’s strangely adult, calm narration, facts become unreliable and greater contextualization slippery, if present at all. In the background are the clashes between Korean and American cultures; North and South Korean politics; teenage idealism and the heartbreaking adult world.
Intriguing, suspenseful, sometimes frustrating; an eerily timeless story.