My review of Krys Lee's startling collection of stories, Drifting House, appears today in The Daily Beast. With a whole marching band's worth of international fanfare, this book that spans three countries will be published next Tuesday. Here is an excerpt from my take:
It is only coincidence that Drifting House debuts in the immediate wake of the death of Kim Jong-il. North Korea is transitioning to the rule of Kim Jong-un, and national mourning appears to be in part coerced. With Lee’s uncommon vantage on life in both Koreas and in the West, Drifting House offers a rare look at how damaging politics takes a personal turn, undermining even what we are able to call home.
This is a dark book. The greatest strength of these nine stories is Lee’s ability to locate them in the strange and brutal dimensions of lives distorted by dictatorship, exile, expatriation, and even hunger. Her stories also slide through the quiet violence of divorce, loneliness, parenthood, and erotic attraction. Ingrained sexism suffocates the ability of many characters to move through their cities and their homes as whole people. Korean veterans who fought for the American army in Vietnam are found neglected and amputated. Unemployment and withheld pensions unsteady South Korea after the 1997 financial crisis. Within the first four pages of “The Salaryman,” the title character learns that his job “no longer exists”. He retreats to Yeoido Park, where other men in suits sit on benches and read newspapers. They will spend each day here, and each day go home to tell their family that, yes, work was fine, “until there’s no money left in the bank account.” Later, the salaryman is among the depleted poor who congregate in Seoul Station, left to beg and ferociously defend what is thrown his way. “The green bills separate you from who you were the day before, and you want to live because you are a human being and you deserve it.”
Stay tuned for an Isak Interview with Lee coming soon!