CLAY WALLS by Kim Ronyoung


Email this review


An immigrant novel of quiet power and sensitivity--the story of Koreans fighting their way into American society in the years following WW I. Haesu is an arrogant young woman from an aristocratic family who is forced into an arranged marriage beneath her station with Chun, a farmer's son. They leave Korea to escape the vice-like grip of the encroaching Japanese, and finally wind up in Los Angeles in 1920, where they have three children (Harold, John and Faye) and Chun lands a lucrative contract selling produce to the Navy. Told from the points of view of Haesu and Chun, and finally narrated by Faye, the novel lacks great upheavals and dramatic plot entanglements; it's instead the interior story of the Chun family, especially of Haesu and Chun, who are literally strangers to themselves and to the strange land they find themselves in. Their marriage is a series of fights over money and sex and Haesu's involvement with a group of Korean nationalists--as sad and fiery and hopeless as any Irish patriots in a James Joyce story--who finally realize that they will never regain their homeland. When the Depression comes, Chun loses his job, gambles away their home, and finally dies alone, a bellhop in a Reno hotel. Haesu moves the family to a black ghetto, takes in sewing, and watches as her children are finally assimilated into the mainstream, weathering even the coming of WW II and their neighbors' virulent suspicion of all Orientals. The novel drags as it draws to a close--Faye's story is never as interesting as her mother's--but this is, in all, an impressive debut, realistic, moving and finely tuned.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1986
ISBN: 1877946788
Publisher: Permanent Press