A young Korean-American woman grapples with issues of identity, family, and love in Park’s debut novel, a sweet and savvy bildungsroman.
Jane Re is a recent college graduate whose high-finance job offer evaporated when the dot-com bubble burst. Now she’s stuck restocking shelves and serving irritable customers at Food, her disapproving aunt and uncle’s grocery store. It doesn’t help that everyone in her Korean immigrant neighborhood knows she's an orphan, and honhyol (mixed-blood) to boot. While her friends from school are off to impressive professional jobs, Jane is stuck in unfashionable Queens, wrestling with the broken door of the walk-in freezer, the constant criticism of her appearance (“Koreanish”) and behavior, and the uncomfortable rigidity of family life. When her geeky friend Eunice Oh suggests she apply for an au pair job in Brooklyn, Jane finds herself plunged into a bewilderingly different cultural context that turns out to be a brave new world. The book is, in its own way, both a historical novel and a novel of place. Park’s lovingly detailed descriptions reveal Brooklyn, Queens, and Seoul as seen by an intelligent 20-something in the first years of the 21st century. A varied cast of characters—women’s-studies professors, a Chinese adoptee, an Italian immigrant babysitter with a talent for home renovation—is drawn with affectionate respect. Park does a lovely job of tracing Jane’s growing maturity and self-knowledge. Her experiences facing her family history and complex identity when she visits South Korea to see her dying grandfather nicely mirror those among Korean immigrants and others in the U.S. Park is a fine writer with an eye for the effects of class and ethnic identity, a sense of humor, and a compassionate view of human weakness who nevertheless doesn't make the rookie error of letting her characters off easy.
An enjoyable book offering a portrait of a young woman struggling to come into her own in the increasingly complicated opening years of a new century.