Canadian Chinese lawyer Ariadne “Ari” Hui feels unappreciated, undermined and misunderstood at work. Despite her dedication and strong work ethic, her hopes to be instrumental in a big case are dashed by a new hire who happens to be white—just like the rest of her co-workers. But her work strife is briefly forgotten when she returns home to find an unfamiliar man sleeping on her sofa. The handsome stranger turns out to be Choi Jihoon, her roommate’s charming cousin who is visiting from Seoul, South Korea. Ari is initially resistant to spending time with him, but Jihoon’s joyful approach to life helps liberate her from her stifling beliefs about work and life. The cool, reserved Ari finds herself melting—until she discovers what Jihoon does for a living.
Lily Chu’s sweet, entertaining The Comeback will have readers rooting for the two very different characters at its heart. Ari is consistently relatable, and her efforts to be a good daughter and fulfill her father’s desire for her to have a successful career are laudable. While the portrayal of the racial politics of Ari’s workplace can be didactic at times, Chu does effectively highlight the variety of cultural misconceptions and insensitivities that plague Ari, such as when people assume that because she is Chinese, she should speak Chinese, or that, at the very least, her parents should have an accent. The mysterious Jihoon is equally intriguing as he skulks around Toronto with Ari before revealing his secret. It’s clear that both lack a firm sense of self, and their individual journeys to understand what they truly want make for a gratifying read.
The story’s eventual foray into dazzling Seoul adds to the appeal, with Chu credibly portraying the trendy costumes, enigmatic personalities and huge fan bases of K-pop stars. She balances out the dazzle of this world by also showing how its denizens must commit to hourslong rehearsals, give up their autonomy and endure a distinct lack of privacy.
Filled with tender moments, The Comeback will delight fans of rom-coms like Last Tang Standing and Crazy Rich Asians.