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.