This extremely ambitious new novel from award winning author, Chang-Rae Lee, was calling to me to learn more about the Korean War. But it is so much more than that. Just wait until you encounter the characters, especially Hector. To say the novel is harsh is an understatement. But the harshness is necessary to get the story straight. After all, this is what happened.
June’s story is the opener, and we are quickly shown just how cold and austere this story is right from the get-go. It is 1950, June is barely eleven, on the run with her two much younger siblings. Her parents have disappeared, most likely were slaughtered, and she’s trying to escape a similar demise. The Korean War has begun. What you will experience in this stunning first chapter sets the pace for the entire story. It is simply horrific.
Hector’s story begins in 1945 when he is fifteen, living in a small town in New Work. As is so much the case, circumstances dictate our futures. Hector’s decision one night to deviate from the norm, will cause him to feel responsible for his father’s death forever. He ends up leaving home as a teenager, joins the army, and ends up in Korea. Hector sought out war for self-punishment.
The story roams back and forth between the 50’s and the late 80’s. So, when the story moves to the late 80’s, we find June with insurmountable health issues, and Hector eking out a living as a custodian while drinking his life away at night. We know June is wild to find Hector after all this time. We’ve found through the story that Hector and June have a son, Nicolas, and he is off traveling around Europe. Has not been home to as much as see his mother since after graduation for high school. Does Hector even know about his son? Aw, I will let you find out. But I will tell you that June has hired a detective to find her son.
The desolation and uselessness of war shine through this story at all times. Only the character of a missionary, loved in common by both June and Hector, brings a bit of softness to this otherwise tough terrain. Sylvie Tanner certainly has her own set of demons, but through her character’s love and flaws, the spirit’s of June and Hector open to us. And we get a peak into who they may become.
Both in the past and the present, atrocities abound. But enduring these is worth the price of admittance. This story is so soulfully told, and so full of auspicious prose that I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a classic. It already is in my book.