2010-03-25 / Opinions

Everything Asian By SUNG J. WOO

Book Review
Reviewed by PEGGY BARNETT
Americans are sometimes chastised for not being adequately interested in literature from other countries. Recent books by writers with a foreign background, however, have been popular. Everything Asian is a novel which follows the story of a Korean family making a home in the USA.

David Kim relates the story in flashback. His father had left Korea to find work and make a home for his wife and two children in New Jersey. Five years later, his family joins him. He has opened a gift shop in a rundown strip mall. The focus of the novel is that first year when they are reunited.

David (known as “Joon-a” in the family) is usually the first person narrator. Woo varies the point of view, though, letting the other family members take charge in several chapters. The shop sells everything Asian, but the name is East Meets West.” The whole family helps at the shop.

The father, called “Kim” by Mr. Hong, a friend who has helped him settle in America, struggles with his desire for his family to be happy in their new world and with financial problems. David seems to adjust more quickly than the women. He is 12 as the story begins and has the usual adolescent problems aggravated by learning a new culture.

In Sook, 15-year-old daughter of the family, known as “Sue” at school, is so unhappy that she fakes a suicide attempt. She misses her friends and home in Korea. Both she and David want to make friends of their own age, but find new customs and attitudes difficult.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Kim is also ex5remely unhappy. The five-year separation has put too much stress on their marriage. Although both parents want to save the family, each looks elsewhere for comfort and adventure. Gradually Mrs. Kiim gets to know Jhee Hong, a relationship that is promising.

A fire at the local grill brings more conflicts. Although their shop has smoke damage, Mr. Hong’s business is ruined, and he breaks a leg. Often sad, but also funny, Everything Asian gives the reader glimpses of a life that most of us do not know. The Kims’ struggles are familiar yet strange, as they try to come together as a family again.

Everything Asian is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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