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I WENT TO SEE MY FATHER

A sensitively crafted family portrait that's both specific and universal and, above all, humane.

The fully rounded character of an elderly father—a man of few words but many tears, now mildly confused—is explored during his adult daughter’s return.

It’s been more than two years since novelist Hon last visited her family home in J—, a village in South Korea, having stayed away from her parents since the death of her young daughter. But with her mother in Seoul for medical treatment, Hon is back to keep her father company, and so begins an episodic excursion into the past, focused on Father’s hidden existence and experience. On one level, this novel is a recent history of South Korea, as Father was born in 1933 during the Japanese occupation, experienced the war at age 17, and later lived through enormous financial, social, and material shifts. On another level, it’s an almost banal account of a minor life; Father was “born in a completely ordinary farming house...in the middle of nowhere in southern Korea, prevented from setting foot in school and never leaving home except for survival itself, living a life of dust.” But behind this facade of Father’s are complexity, suffering, deception, generosity, and striving—to support a wife and six children, with commitments to giving them all a college education despite his unreliable income from farming. And there are secrets, too. Shin, whose work has previously considered roots, rural life, literature, and generational shifts, mines not unfamiliar territory but uses a wider perspective here, considering Father from multiple directions, although principally Hon’s, while incorporating letters and memories into the contemporary flow. It’s a gentle yet piercing technique, with family dynamics unearthed affectingly: Hon was a favored child; Eldest Son was loaded with expectation and responsibility; Second Son, saved from death by his father’s intervention, carries a different psychological burden. Ultimately, Father finds the words, just 11 of them, but enough.

A sensitively crafted family portrait that's both specific and universal and, above all, humane.

Pub Date: April 11, 2023

ISBN: 9781662601378

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Astra House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2023

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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HAPPY PLACE

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

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Exes pretend they’re still together for the sake of their friends on their annual summer vacation.

Wyn Connor and Harriet Kilpatrick were the perfect couple—until Wyn dumped Harriet for reasons she still doesn’t fully understand. They’ve been part of the same boisterous friend group since college, and they know that their breakup will devastate the others and make things more than a little awkward. So they keep it a secret from their friends and families—in fact, Harriet barely even admits it to herself, focusing instead on her grueling hours as a surgical resident. She’s ready for a vacation at her happy place—the Maine cottage she and her friends visit every summer. But (surprise!) Wyn is there too, and he and Harriet have to share a (very romantic) room and a bed. Telling the truth about their breakup is out of the question, because the cottage is up for sale, and this is the group’s last hurrah. Determined to make sure everyone has the perfect last trip, Harriet and Wyn resolve to fake their relationship for the week. The problem with this plan, of course, is that Harriet still has major feelings for Wyn—feelings that only get stronger as they pretend to be blissfully in love. As always, Henry’s dialogue is sparkling and the banter between characters is snappy and hilarious. Wyn and Harriet’s relationship, shown both in the past and the present, feels achingly real. Their breakup, as well as their complicated relationships with their own families, adds a twinge of melancholy, as do the relatable growing pains of a group of friends whose lives are taking them in different directions.

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9780593441275

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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