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VINE VOICEon 20 March 2012
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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on 7 April 2012
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. "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.
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on 22 December 2015
Arrived on time and as described
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