STARRED REVIEW
March 2016

An immigrant family’s struggle to find balance

By Harlan Coben
Jung Yun’s debut novel, Shelter, opens with a scene all too familiar in every parent’s life: a child out of bed way too early. We meet main character Kyung Cho, a first-generation Korean American, as he, annoyed and blurry eyed, tries to gratify the demands of his 4-year-old son, Ethan. Through this mundane encounter, the reader gets a sense of Kyung’s unhappy state of mind. The young professor is broke, and things get worse when he learns that his parents have become victims of a violent crime.
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Jung Yun’s debut novel, Shelter, opens with a scene all too familiar in every parent’s life: a child out of bed way too early. We meet main character Kyung Cho, a first-generation Korean American, as he, annoyed and blurry eyed, tries to gratify the demands of his 4-year-old son, Ethan. Through this mundane encounter, the reader gets a sense of Kyung’s unhappy state of mind. The young professor is broke, and things get worse when he learns that his parents have become victims of a violent crime.

With each page, Yun takes us deeper into Kyung’s troubles, caused not only by the criminal acts of strangers but also by his own ineptitude, which he blames on his sadistic and loveless childhood. Gillian, his understanding, supportive, non-Korean wife, and Mae, his traditional, religious and artistic Korean mother, provide a juxtaposition of female influences in Kyung’s life, while his father, the elder Mr. Cho, questions whether Kyung is to blame for his own problems. 

As the crime drama unfolds in the background, Yun expertly explores what it means to be an immigrant in America, the true value of tradition, the parent-child bond, what makes a good marriage and the need for forgiveness. Yun introduces us to a man riddled with anger and self-doubt, leaving the reader to judge whether time can truly mend what’s broken. The story of Shelter is more than just about having a home; it is about finding a refuge in one’s own skin.

 

This article was originally published in the March 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Shelter

Shelter

By Harlan Coben
Putnam
ISBN 9780399256509

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