Jung Yun’s first novel tackles clashes of culture and family
By Eliza Cana, Contributor
The book “Shelter” by Korean author Jung Yun follows a couple whose debts and bad decisions are now catching up with them, leaving them burdened by a house they cannot afford.
Since husband Kyung grew up in a Korean household while wife Gillian grew up in an American household, both clash in their ways of handling their personal crises. At 30-something years old, Kyung does not have the best relationship with his parents, but something horrific and traumatic happens that forces him to reconnect with them.
After the violent incident, Kyung is haunted by guilt and anger as he feels obligated to be a good son, husband, and father and provide them all shelter despite the lack of affection his parents gave him as a child.
“Shelter” suggests that Kyung feels pressure to provide for his parents, wife and son because it is a part of his culture. Kyung moved to the United States with his parents from Korea when he was a child.
When Kyung’s wife, who is Irish-American, tells Kyung that he had every right to cut his parents out of his life, Kyung responds, “That’s an American idea. Koreans are different.”
Their cultural differences are clearly displayed throughout the book. Yun suggests that Kyung’s Asian-American culture is the reason for his struggles, but you find out that the problems Kyung faces are not only ethnic, but also universal.
When you realize that Kyung is fighting to maintain a steady job, provide money to sustain a household, and raise healthy children, he is actually fighting to live the American dream. Although Yun points out that being Korean is not the main spotlight on her characters, culture definitely plays a role in who they are and how they live and connect within their families.
The story itself is very heavy and gripping. It is an honest and graphic read in the way it is written and it reveals how badly someone can be affected by their upbringing. The novel is well written because it was full of details yet straightforward.
Despite the dramatic and pretty far-fetched plot, the writer is able to avoid the novel sounding melodramatic. It was definitely a page-turner; and if you are interested in a very real, sad and honest piece of fiction, I highly recommend this book.