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Drifting House [Paperback]

Krys Lee
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 Jan 2012

A haunting and unforgettable debut spanning the last seventy years of Korean history, including the BBC Short Story Prize shortlisted story 'The Goose Father'.

Alternating between the lives of Koreans struggling through seventy years of turbulent, post-World War Two history in their homeland and the communities of Korean immigrants grappling with assimilation in the United States, Krys Lee's haunting debut story collection Drifting House weaves together intricate tales of family and love, abandonment and loss on both sides of the Pacific.

In the title story, children escaping famine in North Korea are forced to make unthinkable sacrifices to survive. The tales set in America reveal the immigrants' unmoored existence, playing out in cramped apartments and Koreatown strip malls, from the abandoned wife in 'A Temporary Marriage' who enters into a sham marriage to find her kidnapped daughter to the makeshift family in 'At the Edge of the World' which is fractured when a shaman from the old country moves in next door.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (19 Jan 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571276180
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571276189
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 678,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Compelling reading ... there is a stark beauty to Lee s writing. Drifting House offers a poignant glimpse into lives divided by history.' Andrew Marszal, Daily Telegraph'

'If there's one thing Krys Lee knows how to do it's use history and culture as the boards and backdrop of a narrative while allowing her characters to take centre-stage ... whatever their location, each [story] contains an understanding of the sadness of history ... the two finest stories in the collection, 'Drifting House' and 'The Believer', achieve extraordinary feats within a few pages murder, madness, haunting, loss of faith and more.' Kamila Shamsie, Guardian

These are subtle, haunting stories that explore the lives of people caught between two cultures.' Nick Rennison, Sunday Times

' Powerful debut collection ... Sometimes the sadness of her characters feels so pervasive that we question why they even bother to go on. And yet they do, and perhaps that is the author's point: we struggle, we live, we persevere. We are Koreans, and we know all about suffering. By showing these authentic, everyday people at dramatic and pivotal moments, Krys Lee strips them to the core of their humanity. Her vision is a solemn one, but an important one too.' Sung J Woo, Financial Times

'What wonderful and haunting worlds Krys Lee illuminates . . . a Korea and a Korean America made new by this exciting writer s entrancing vision. --Janice Y. K. Lee, author of The Piano Teacher

'Krys Lee's fascinating stories take place in gaps in the world, the surreal places that are in fact reality for her Korean
characters, both at home and abroad. In those interstices there is horror and humor; there is sometimes haunting sadness, and there is on occasion grace.' --Jane Hamilton, author of A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth

'In this sublime debut collection spanning both Korea and America,
protagonists locked in by oppressive social forces struggle to break free in
original ways, each unexpected denouement a minor miracle or a perfect tragedy.' --Publishers Weekly

'Krys Lee's fascinating stories take place in gaps in the world, the surreal places that are in fact reality for her Korean
characters, both at home and abroad. In those interstices there is horror and humor; there is sometimes haunting sadness, and there is on occasion grace.' --Jane Hamilton, author of A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth

'In this sublime debut collection spanning both Korea and America,
protagonists locked in by oppressive social forces struggle to break free in
original ways, each unexpected denouement a minor miracle or a perfect tragedy.' --Publishers Weekly

'Krys Lee's fascinating stories take place in gaps in the world, the surreal places that are in fact reality for her Korean
characters, both at home and abroad. In those interstices there is horror and humor; there is sometimes haunting sadness, and there is on occasion grace.' --Jane Hamilton, author of A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth

'In this sublime debut collection spanning both Korea and America,
protagonists locked in by oppressive social forces struggle to break free in
original ways, each unexpected denouement a minor miracle or a perfect tragedy.' --Publishers Weekly

Book Description

An unforgettable collection of stories of family and love, abandonment and loss from a gifted Korean-born debut author.

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Customer Reviews

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4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Format:Hardcover
One of the most memorable story collections I have ever read is written by an author who demonstrates that she can transform simple, unadorned, prose into especially moving fiction conveying ample empathy and understanding for the characters and the settings she depicts. While these stories are about Koreans in North Korea, South Korea and the United States, this is a story collection whose memorable tales defy labeling, moving easily between realism and magical realism, written by a writer who writes assuredly as if this was merely one of her latest literary efforts, not her very first book of fiction. Krys Lee's "Drifting House" is one of the finest recent literary debuts I have read, replete with nine stories told compelling via a lean prose , a most memorable economy of style, that bears some resemblance to William Gibson's latest ("Zero History") in its clarity and precision, able to convey much emotion to the reader. Lee's stories chronicle rootless people, trapped by circumstances beyond their control, often caught in a clas hof cultures; between those of North and South Korea, between Korean and American.

One of the best stories in this collection, "Temporary Marriage", describes how a Seoul divorcee opts for a new life in Los Angeles, finding an unexpected haven in the home of an older Korean-American man as she plots an unexpected reunion with her young daughter, taken from her years before by her former husband. In "At the Edge of the World", nine year-old Korean American Myeongseok "Mark" Lee contends awkwardly with his awakening sense of love towards a young girl he befriends in school and with the psychological demons haunting his father, a North Korean defector.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging !! 20 Mar 2012
By T. D. Dawson TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Soon after I reviewed - somewhat critically - The Orphan Master's Son I read James Church's review of the novel on the 38 North website. This website is devoted to analysis of North Korea and, speaking from an obviously extremely knowledgeable background, Mr Church considers that 'The Orphan Master's Son' fails to paint a balanced picture of North Korea.

His review pointed me towards this collection of nine short stories describing the experience of ordinary people living in North and South Korea - and of those who have emigrated to the United States. Miss Lee is a Korean-American writer who, having lived in Seoul for several years, clearly has substantial first-hand experience of the enigma that is the two Koreas.

Did I enjoy the stories? The answer, quite honestly, is that I'm not sure. Her depiction of the characters is undoubtedly very perceptive but I found the stories themselves somewhat difficult to follow. This may be due to her style of writing in which you see the characters through their own eyes, as they experience the trauma of social forces that are completely beyond their control yet impinge continuously on these frequently damaged individuals.

Rating Krys Lee's collection of stories was thus an almost unfair challenge but, on balance, it rates the four stars I've awarded. It may be that Blaine Harden's recently published Escape from Camp 14: One man's remarkable odyssey from North Korea to freedom in the West (which I've just downloaded) will help bridge my mental gap between the Korea as portrayed in 'The Orphan Master's Son' and in the vastly more challenging 'Drifting House'.

So watch this space!
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We All Live in Drifting Houses 4 Feb 2012
By Bonnie Brody - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Drifting House by Krys Lee is one of the very best collections of short stories I have ever read. They are right up there with Alice Munroe. The stories are all about Korean people, their culture in Korea and the immigrant experience in the United States. The stories share several thematic elements: loss, separation, solitude, a sense of being out of place and situations of violence that are often painful to read. The author examines the limits of what human beings are capable of and how they endure.

In A Temporary Marriage, a woman leaves Korea for the United States in the hopes of finding her daughter who her ex-husband kidnapped. She enters into a marriage of convenience in order to have the correct paperwork to be in the United States. Here, she searches for her daughter in California.

At the Edge of the World is about Mark, "nine years old and he knew everything". He is more like nine years old going on forty. However, he is friendless and the other children his age torment him in endless ways. When a girl his age, Chanhee, moves in next door, they befriend each other. Chanhee's mother is a shaman and Mark's mother is a christian who despises shamanism. When Mark's father visits the shaman, all hell breaks loose in the family.

The Pastor's son is about the cycle of family violence and abuse. After the death of his mother, Jingyu and his father move to Seoul where his father marries his dead wife's best friend, a promise he'd made to his first wife before she died. There ensues a family from hell despite the pastor supposedly being a man of god. The pastor's son says, in a moment of insight, "I saw the violence that my father had grown up with and passed down to us. I felt what my father must have always carried with him: the terrible war, its long ago shadow that cast far beyond and drew you in like a thirsty curse".

In The Goose Father, Gilho is a goose father, a man in Korea who supports his family living overseas in the United States. To assuage his loneliness, he takes in a tenant, Wuseong. Gilho's life becomes transformed and reaffirmed in ways he could never have predicted.

The Salaryman is a very powerful story about the financial crisis in Korea and a worker who is let go. He gives everything he has to his wife and children and takes to living in the streets - desolate, lonely and hopeless.

Drifting House is about two young boys and their crippled sister who trek from N. Korea to China to try to find their mother who deserted them. The life of poverty they live is inconceivable; "an eleven-year-old with a body withering on two years of boiled tree bark, mashed roots, and the occasional grilled rat and fried crickets on a stick". Finding an acorn that can be divided in three portions is a real gift to them. Some of the people in their village have even reverted to cannabalism in order to stave off their hunger.

The Believer is one of the more violent stories in the book. Jenny had always believed in god and was even attending seminary school. However, she loses faith when she comes home to the site of a violent murder committed by her mother. Their family falls apart and despite the excrutiating emotional violence that Jenny endures, her search for god continues.

The stories are all about people who are dislodged from their lives in some way, passing time until something new might possibly occur. Many are waiting for an epiphany that is just beyond reach. They are caught up in the cycle of poverty, the immigrant experience, family violence, and the absoluteness of time. Some are dealing with sexual issues or sexual awakenings. They all live in a drifting house, some carrying their homes on their backs and others going from one land to another. This is a brilliant book and I highly recommend it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One dimensional 16 July 2013
By Prunella K. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I read this book on the recommendation of the author of The Orphan Master's Son. Unfortunately for this book, I read it immediately after The Orphan Master's Son, and it suffered by comparison. The process of degeneration in the Salaryman stories was brilliantly laid out. But the other stories, excepting the one about the couple with the unconventional marriage, were about people exhibiting extreme behavior that was hard to empathize with. It seemed as though immigration brought out tendencies already present in their personalities but this was not discussed. The book needed some balance.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Spectacular Debut Short Story Collection from A Great New Talent 7 April 2012
By John Kwok - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
One of the most memorable story collections I have ever read is written by an author who demonstrates that she can transform simple, unadorned, prose into especially moving fiction conveying ample empathy and understanding for the characters and the settings she depicts. While these stories are about Koreans in North Korea, South Korea and the United States, this is a story collection whose memorable tales defy labeling, moving easily between realism and magical realism, written by a writer who writes assuredly as if this was merely one of her latest literary efforts, not her very first book of fiction. Krys Lee's "Drifting House" is one of the finest recent literary debuts I have read, replete with nine stories told compelling via a lean prose , a most memorable economy of style, that bears some resemblance to William Gibson's latest ("Zero History") in its clarity and precision, able to convey much emotion to the reader. Lee's stories chronicle rootless people, trapped by circumstances beyond their control, often caught in a clash of cultures; between those of North and South Korea, between Korean and American.

One of the best stories in this collection, "Temporary Marriage", describes how a Seoul divorcee opts for a new life in Los Angeles, finding an unexpected haven in the home of an older Korean-American man as she plots an unexpected reunion with her young daughter, taken from her years before by her former husband. In "At the Edge of the World", nine year-old Korean American Myeongseok "Mark" Lee contends awkwardly with his awakening sense of love towards a young girl he befriends in school and with the psychological demons haunting his father, a North Korean defector. "The Salary Man" recounts vividly, the frustrations felt by a Seoul white collar worker as though he is the Korean counterpart to Arthur Miller's Willy Loman ("Death of a Salesman"). In "Drifting House", the title story, a young North Korean boy must make a most fateful and tragic decision as he and his siblings try fleeing North Korea in the dead of winter, hoping to follow their mother into the People's Republic of China. A young Korean-American woman seeks GOD and finds instead, a most unexpected sexual awakening in "The Believer". Teenager Mina searches for her long absent father, a soldier fighting in Viet Nam, and her first stirrings of sexuality in late 1970s Seoul in the concluding tale "Beautiful Women". All of these, as well as the others in "Drifting House", are astonishingly mature works of short fiction, demonstrating that Krys Lee is indeed a great new talent in American literary fiction.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stellar debut 17 Feb 2012
By Steven L. Herman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Once in a blue moon readers find in their hands a book by a previously unknown writer that makes more than a fleeting impression. Rarer these days is discovering a new author whose prose is well-crafted, articulate and compelling. It is even more unusual, however, to sense that a new writer has emerged who will take his or her place alongside the greats of Western literature. We'll have to wait for Krys Lee's subsequent books to ascertain whether the initial buzz about her will merit a reputation as a top notch 21st century author and whether she can break out of the inevitable typecasting of "Asian Lit." But Drifting House has led to one of those times when I have bought multiple copies to give away to friends.

I am very curious to see if the collection will find resonance beyond the world of those fascinated with Korea. I do believe that Korea and Koreans are a mere canvas for Krys to write eloquently about wider issues of identity, conflict, love and death. While well crafted, not every story here is an easy read. This is certainly the author's intention. At times I felt claustrophobic and as if the darkness was emerging from the pages to envelope me. While I never found myself quite gasping to catch my breath I did feel that some of the incidents could repulse more delicate readers. In other words, not every story in this collection can be deemed "enjoyable." However I don't get the impression that Krys Lee is writing to shock for the sake of being perverse, as some other well-known trendy writers tend to do. There are deeper messages and meaning in these pages, which perhaps deserve a second or third reading to more clearly discern. And, that is an indication, after all, of great writing.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Drifting In An Age of Instability 14 Feb 2012
By Jill I. Shtulman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Drifting House - the debut collection of Krys Lee - contains many good stories and some truly exceptional ones. And like all short story compilations, readers are bound to gravitate to their own favorites.

For me, a few of them really sang. In the first, A Temporary Marriage, Mrs. Shin has been forced to endure an abusive relationship and enters a sham marriage with another Korean named Mr. Rhee. As a result of her divorce, she loses custody of her daughter, whom she is determined to see again. But has she courted her own abuse? Phrases such as "her wounded body continued its ancient song" sum up, in a few sparse words, what the theme of the story is really about.

Then there's The Goose Father - the traditional name for a father who faithfully sends money to his family overseas. The father - a one-time poet - takes in a young boarder who carries an actual goose with a wounded wing. In powerful prose, the father - Gilho - must come to terms with his true inclinations and his lifetime loneliness and alienation.

The Salaryman is stunning in its understated, naturalistic prose. In this story - told in second person - we watch a solid Korean businessman lose his job, his family, his confidence, and ultimately, his very humanity. It's like watching a train wreck; it's hard to look away.

There are many other good ones as well - the eponymous Drifting House, the most surreal of the lot, where two brothers and their very young sister try to escape North Korea's countryside famine by fleeing to China. Yet they cannot escape their ghosts. And in The Believer, a mentally deranged Korean American woman commits a heinous crime; her daughter tries to comfort her father by performing an unspeakable act.

Ms. Lee is a young writer who is willing to take risks as she focuses her talent on those who are damaged, lonely, yearning. It's not uplifting - marriages fail, men lose their sense of masculinity, women lose their sense of value, and most everyone feels displaced. Yet it offers amazing insights into the hopelessness and frustration that define a Korea that's been through war, financial draught, and instabilities.
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