SHELTER by Jung Yun


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A fluidly written debut novel that explores violence and its effects on one immigrant family.

Education, marriage, and suburban comfort can’t protect second-generation Korean-American Kyung Cho from his past—or his future—in Yun’s layered, sometimes surprising debut. Kyung’s 4-year-old son is difficult, his job unsatisfying, his marriage strained. The family finances are disastrous. Kyung and his wife, Gillian, are finally forced to consider renting out their home and moving in with his distant and disapproving parents. But even as they chat with the real estate agent, their world is turned upside down: Mae, Kyung's mother, is walking toward the house, naked and battered. The events that follow move smoothly through time as Kyung struggles with buried traumas while desperately trying to respond to fresh ones. Yun’s plotting is muscular; when another writer might have started to wind down, she offers unexpected developments, making for a sophisticated story that maintains its narrative momentum right to the end. On the other hand, Kyung’s character can be frustratingly one-dimensional. Yun often anatomizes his feelings without allowing the reader emotional access, creating a distance that makes it harder to engage with him at the most difficult moments. The relationship between Kyung and Gillian and many of the parent-child relationships are rendered in a series of brief moments of disapproval, resistance, or shame. This is sometimes appropriate but so often repeated that it begins to feel like shorthand. Yun too frequently explains what would have been more effectively described, leaving the book a little flat.

Yun’s characters don't merely desire walls and a roof, although houses have a powerful and intelligent presence here. A diverse and nuanced cast of characters seeks shelter from pain and loneliness in this valiant portrayal of contemporary American life.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-250-07561-1
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2016


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