Here’s part two of our list of summer-perfect reads! As mentioned last week, our reading list is comprised of, either books penned by Korean American authors, or stories featuring Korean and/or Korean American characters. So, browse our picks, book a story (or two) and get reading! To see the first part, go here.
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (Translated by Chi-Young Kim) | Buy
The children’s desperate search for their missing mother only makes clearer to them the indifference with which they had always treated her, and this heartbreaking tale serves as a warning to readers that family cannot be taken for granted.
Back cover: On a family visit to the city, Mom is right behind her husband when the train pulls out of Seoul Station without her, and she is lost, possibly forever. As her children argue over how to find her and her husband returns to their countryside home to wait for her, they each recall their lives with her, their memories often more surprising than comforting. Have they lived up to her expectations? Was she happy? Through the piercing voices of daughter, son, and husband, and through Mom’s own words in the novel’s shattering conclusion, we learn what happened that day, and explore an even deeper mystery—of motherhood itself. You will never think of your mother the same way again after you’ve read this book.
- Kyung Sook Shin is an award-winning South Korean author who is currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University. Please Look After Mom—a best-seller in both Korea and the U.S.— is her first novel available in translation.
- Chi-Young Kim is a literary translator based in Los Angeles. For more info, click here.
Everything Asian by Sung J. Woo | Buy
With humor and dramatic discoveries, the novel captures the hopes and disappointments of immigrant life through the eyes of a young character.
Back cover: You’re twelve years old. A month has passed since your Korean Air flight landed at lovely Newark Airport. Your fifteen-year-old sister is miserable. Your mother isn’t exactly happy, either. You’re seeing your father for the first time in five years, and although he’s nice enough, he might be, well–how can you put this delicately?–a loser. You can’t speak English, but that doesn’t stop you from working at East Meets West, your father’s gift shop in a strip mall, where everything is new. Welcome to the wonderful world of David Kim.
Born in South Korea, Sung J. Woo immigrated to the U.S. when he was ten years old. He attended Cornell University and received his M.F.A. from NYU. He now lives in Washington, N.J. and blogs at http://www.sungjwoo.com/. His sophomore novel is currently in the works!
The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee | Buy
2011 Pulitzer finalist Chang-rae Lee tells of the lasting effects of the Korean War through his three main characters.
Back cover: June Han was only a girl when the Korean War left her orphaned; Hector Brennan was a young GI who fled the petty tragedies of his small town to serve his country. When the war ended, their lives collided at a Korean orphanage where they vied for the attentions of Sylvie Tanner, the beautiful yet deeply damaged missionary wife whose elusive love seemed to transform everything. Thirty years later and on the other side of the world, June and Hector are reunited in a plot that will force them to come to terms with the mysterious secrets of their past, and the shocking acts of love and violence that bind them together.
Chang-rae Lee is an award-winning author and teacher. Born in South Korea in 1965, Lee and his family immigrated to the U.S. in 1968. He received his B.A. in English from Yale University and his M.F.A. from the University of Oregon. He is currently a Professor of Creative Writing at Princeton University.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart | Buy
Mentored by Chang-rae Lee, Shyteyngart’s portrayal of Korean and Korean American culture is quite interesting to read.
Back cover: In a very near future, a functionally illiterate America is about to collapse. But don’t tell that to poor Lenny Abramov—he totally loves books (or “printed, bound media artifacts,” as they’re now known), even though most of his peers find them smelly and annoying. But even more than books, Lenny loves Eunice Park, an impossibly cute and impossibly cruel twenty-four-year-old Korean American woman who just graduated from Elderbird College with a major in Images and a minor in Assertiveness. Could falling in love redeem a planet falling apart?
Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972 and came to the U.S. seven years later. He has been selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. He lives in NYC. Last year, he picked Lee’s Native Speaker as one of his favorite books.
Miles from Nowwhere by Nami Mun | Buy
Mun’s first novel is a harrowing teenage runaway’s tale set in the streets of NYC during the 1980s.
Back cover: Joon is a teenager living in the Bronx. Her parents have crumbled under the weight of her father’s infidelity; he has left the family, and mental illness has rendered her mother nearly catatonic. So Joon, at the age of thirteen, decides she would be better off on her own, a choice that commences a harrowing and often tragic journey that exposes the painful difficulties of a life lived on the margins. Joon’s adolescent years take her from a homeless shelter to an escort club, through struggles with addiction, to jobs selling newspapers and cosmetics, committing petty crimes, and, finally, toward something resembling hope.
Nami Mun grew up in Seoul, South Korea and Bronx, New York. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing in Chicago. For more info, click here.
My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store by Ben Ryder Howe | Buy
A story of how the characters stay afloat without losing sight of the love for family that bound them together in the first place.
Back cover: This sweet and funny tale of a preppy editor buying a Brooklyn deli with his Korean in-laws is about family, culture clash, and the quest for authentic experiences. It starts with a gift, when Howe’s wife, the daughter of Korean immigrants, decides to repay her parents’ self-sacrifice by buying them a store. Howe, an editor at the rarefied Paris Review, agrees to go along. Things soon become a lot more complicated. After the business struggles, Howe finds himself living in the basement of his in-laws’ Staten Island home, commuting to the Paris Review offices in George Plimpton’s UES townhouse by day, and heading to Brooklyn at night to slice cold cuts and peddle lottery tickets.
Ben Ryder Howe is a former editor at The Paris Review and has written for various publications, including The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly. He lives on Staten Island with his wife and two children.
Happy Reading! And feel free to suggest your favorite books in the comments section below.
Mindy Gee and Mink Choi contributed to this list.