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Drifting House Paperback – 19 Jan 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (19 Jan. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571276180
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571276189
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.7 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 433,224 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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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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By Terry D TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 20 Mar. 2012
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 16 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful but Frustrating 7 Mar. 2012
By Sujanie - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At times, I felt like Lee's writing was beautiful in a simple but poised manner. There were passages that were so heart-wrenching that I could have cried. Lee often writes with wonderful and stunning imagery, that you feel like you can understand why this collection of short stories has received so many good reviews and praise. However - for me - there was as much frustration in reading these short stories as there was wonder,if not more. Her painfully literal translations of Korean phrases is jarring and often disrupts the flow of her work. While you know that the characters are not actually saying these literal sentences in English for someone who may not be familiar with the Korean language, it's awkward to have these well-developed characters full of personality saying such mechanical sentences to one another. They words lose their meaning when you make them so exact and the characters are no longer as believable. When my upperclassmen ask "' '''?" (Pap mogosso)they aren't asking if I have had rice exactly but simply whether or not I've eaten anything yet. These literal translations are so distracting and that is such a shame.

There were also times when characters would do something that seemed to clash with everything else the character has done and who the character has been explained to be. I feel like the juxtapositions could be truly meaningful, and I'm sure that they were written purposely, but without some kind of justification of these seemingly bizarre change in action or personality, they detract from the integrity of the characters. I also found some of the texts to be awfully word, or there were sensory overloads that took away from the deeper meaning of the story. Krys Lee has so much to say and so much too share, but so much of it gets lost along the way. Reading this collection I felt like a professor who has a brilliant student who just doesn't see the value or the point in making that extra effort in their work. I feel that you can always read Lee's potential to be a truly great writer, but she rarely seemed to fulfill that potential for me. Her work often left me with a feeling that she has an uncomfortable detachment to the subjects she writes about, I felt like she struggled to express these things that she didn't fully know herself, particularly in her story "Drifting House".

But, having said all of this, I would like to say that there were several stories in this collection that I absolutely adored - "At the Edge of the World", "The Goose Father", and "The Salaryman". And "The Pastor's Son" and "A Small Sorrow" almost made the cut as well. In these, Krys Lee effectively portrays these very human and genuine characters with real struggles that a large audience can identify with. They are Korean, and their Korean identities is a strong part of who they are and why they are but these factors don't overwhelm who they are as individuals or override their unique personal conflicts. In my opinion these stories - where Lee isn't trying too hard to present everthing as Korean or Korean-American, but simply showing us people and their everyday battles - are the most beautiful of all. I think that if she can find her voice and continue to write honest and penetrating stories like these I would quickly add her to my list of favorite authors. I honestly think these five stories make buying the collection of nine worth it, if only to get an idea of what she may come up with next.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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
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
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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