So I read Pachinko last year, and pretty much think it was the best book to come out in 2017. It was incredibly strongly written, very compelling, and told a story that I wasn’t very familiar with or knowledgeable about. This novel does several of those things as well. It’s perfectly well-written and a compelling story. It’s a little well-worn territory, minus the fact that there are not remotely enough Korean-American voice working in contemporary fiction.
This novel is primarily about Casey, a young Korean-American woman graduating from college and deciding between a guaranteed law school admission, entering into a back-door entry into finance, or working at the same high-end fashion store she worked in through college. She gets into a huge fight with her father and get kicked out/kicks herself out of her house and has to figure out how to live in New York.
Unlike a lot of similar stories, this novel has a much wider scope and so this familiar storyline is merely the conceit through which a lot of non-critical and non-emergency living happens next. There’s a lot of thinking and growing to be done, but nothing extraordinary has to happen for her to survive. This is a strength of the novel, because a) it’s very clear throughout the novel that she’s a capable person and b) plenty of capable people struggle, and c) a lot of people who struggle ultimately find a way down a path that was not on their original agenda. This is a novel full of such paths. Plan A turns into Plan B and late plans gets changed. The central figures in this novel are various other Korean Americans who interact with and are related to Casey in various ways, and a lot of stories get told. This is a novel about faith, money, marriage, sex, love, family, and Americanism.
“Casey glanced at her plate again, recalling the posters of her elementary school lunchroom: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. So, how much you ate indicated the quantity of your desire. Walter was also implying that how quickly you got your food revealed the likelihood of achieving your goals. She was in fact terribly hungry, but she’d pretended to be otherwise to be ladylike and had moved away from the table to be agreeable, and now she’d continue to be hungry”