Affecting stories about the conflicts between Korean and American culture.
Lee tends to focus on domestic relationships, the tensions—sometimes unbridgeable—between husband and wife, between parent and child. In the opening story, “A Temporary Marriage,” Mrs. Shin saves money to travel from Seoul to southern California to find her daughter Yuri, who she feels has been “kidnapped” and spirited away to America by her ex-husband. In the suburbs of Los Angeles she shares a home with Mr. Rhee, a stranger but fellow-countryman, and fears he might have romantic designs on her. Desperate to locate her daughter, Mrs. Shin hires a detective, Mr. Pak, who eventually locates Yuri, only to find that her daughter has essentially forgotten her, poisoned by the bitterness of her ex-husband as well as by the cultural divide between Korea and the U.S. In “The Pastor’s Son,” a woman makes her husband, Pastor Ryu, promise to marry her old childhood friend, Hyeseon Min, after she dies. The pastor and Hyeseon travel from California back to Seoul for a traditional Korean wedding, but the pastor’s new wife is distressed to discover this marriage of convenience involves no love on the part of the pastor. The heartbreaking “The Salaryman” presents the depressed economic conditions in Korea following the economic bust of 1997. Lee traces the misfortunes of Mr. Seo, who loses his job and then his wife and family. He winds up on the street with a sign around his neck, begging for food and fighting off other “beggars.” “At the Edge of the World” focuses on the split identity of Myeongseok Lee, a prodigy who goes by his Korean name at home and by “Mark” at school.
Lee writes with a clarity and simplicity of style that discloses deep and conflicting emotions about cultural identity.