MEETING WITH MY BROTHER

Yi’s novella complicates our understanding of relations between North and South, warring places so different that...

A modest but quietly controversial look at two very different Koreas, questioning long-held orthodoxies.

North Korea is widely held to be among the world’s most awful places. But, suggests prolific South Korean novelist Yi in a moment that seems almost calculated to draw official scrutiny, perhaps it’s not so awful as all that. Says the North Korean half brother of a South Korean professor during a not entirely planned-out reunion, asked how he’s doing, “Do you want me to tell you how we’re starving and can’t get enough corn gruel to eat?” Conversely, the North Korean semblable wonders how it is that the invading Americans managed to miss their chance to massacre his newly found half brother and his family during the war. Yi’s premise is fruitful: it was the South Korean’s father with whom he was to be reunited, having fled to the North in sympathy with the Communists during the war; that he has other family across the barbed wire is a surprise to him. It is also a surprise for him to learn that his life is as strictly regimented as any in the land of the Kim dynasty: “I could be arrested under the National Security Law,” the South Korean allows, “for illegally crossing the border and having a clandestine meeting.” Yi gets in a few sly digs at both stereotypes and their perpetrators, as when, recounting an academic summit, he depicts the South Koreans as more doctrinaire than their northern brethren: “I tried to introduce the South Koreans to people who were a bit more open-minded and less political,” says a cultural emissary, “since they themselves seemed to have a bit of a—how should I put it?—radical slant.”

Yi’s novella complicates our understanding of relations between North and South, warring places so different that reconciliation—to say nothing of reunification—seems impossible.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-231-17864-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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