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Drifting House Hardcover – February 2, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Lee’s debut story collection features diverse characters confronting the terms of their distinct situations and misfortunes, exploring the borders between lost homelands and shifting relationships. In “A Temporary Marriage,” Mrs. Shin leaves Seoul for California to find her young daughter, kidnapped three years earlier by her ex-husband. She arranges a sham marriage with Korean emigrate Mr. Rhee, a relationship that becomes more nuanced as Mrs. Shin’s search intensifies. In the devastating title tale, three young siblings have no choice but to flee famine-ravaged North Korea for China, a journey that leads to harrowing decisions. “The Salaryman” follows a South Korean businessman as his life spirals out of control after he is fired from his job. “At the Edge of the World” portrays nine-year-old Mark Lee and his parents as they navigate their new life in Los Angeles, while Mark’s father struggles to come to terms with his past. Varying in settings from North and South Korea to the U.S., from postwar to present age, Lee’s nine tales offer haunting perspectives of dislocation and reconciliation. --Leah Strauss


“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. . . . 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.”

The Guardian (London)

“In nine haunting tales, this Korean-born author . . . writes of the psychological fallout from Korea's troubled history and the toll on families living in a fractured world. . . . The metaphor of the drifting house serves as an apt, unifying roof over these harrowing, tragic stories about unmoored characters who find themselves neither here nor there. Lee . . . is well on her way to a promising literary career.”


“When reading the stories of debut author Krys Lee's Drifting House, the simplicity and restraint of the writer come to the fore: declarative sentences, no fulsome descriptions despite the exotic locales of some of her stories. It is in this quiet confidence that the true strangeness and beauty of the work can emerge. . . . It is the cool telling that allows the tectonic plates of history, social forces and circumstances to move beneath these stories, conveying the feeling that something urgent and profound is at stake, beyond the lives of these striving, damaged and unforgettable characters.”

—Marie Myung-Ok Lee, The San Francisco Chronicle

“This powerful debut collection takes an unflinching look at the reality of life in Korea. . . . Lee plumbs the darkness on both sides of this divided nation. . . . Hers is a unique approach. . . . 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.”

The Financial Times

“Krys Lee . . . is already a precise stylist and an unflinching observer of the unfortunate lot of her compatriots, those who stay [in Korea] and those who make it to the States. . . . In the best stories, like the tragic yet luminous ‘A Small Sorrow,’ the story of a flawed marriage and an artistic rivalry, Lee's psychological acuity is empathetic under its unsentimental portraiture.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune

Drifting House has shades of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth in its rendering of split cultural identities. But even more, it recalls Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness, holding beauty and brutality in an elegant equipoise. . . . In her textured, knowing and brilliant debut, Lee tells hard truths, tenderly.”

The Kansas City Star

“Insightful. . . . A keen observation of the layers of Korean society the past few generations, and of the dualities that have shaped the peninsula and its people. . . . The collection is at its best in exploring the duality of past and future, of memory and hope. And it is often at its best. . . . A part tragic and part nostalgic perspective of modern Korea.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Drifting House offers a rare look at how damaging politics takes a personal turn, undermining even what we are able to call home. . . . The greatest strength of these nine stories is Lee’s ability to locate them in the strange and brutal dimensions of lives distorted by dictatorship, exile, expatriation, and even hunger. Her stories also slide through the quiet violence of divorce, loneliness, parenthood, and erotic attraction. . . . Lee is a patient storyteller with a distanced, mostly omniscient point of view. Such a sweeping, plain-style narration is essential for lacing together a collection that unfolds in three countries. The even tone lifts these stories out of melodrama and turns them instead into pristine things that are as unsparing as they are compassionate.”

The Daily Beast

“If you are a short story lover, a reader who isn't afraid of true things, a person who knows every other person around them hides multitudes of both light and dark secrets, read Drifting House.”

The Seattle Post Intelligencer

“However dark their fates might be, Lee blesses her characters with passions forged from the flames of suffering. The survivors of Drifting House are those who dare to find their salvation in small moments of beauty and connection, who have endured great losses, but pick themselves up and keep moving forward. . . . Drifting House reminds us of the illumination that comes from recognizing the shakiness of the ground under our feet. We tell ourselves that we are in control of our stories, but we never are. Lee’s survivors know the truth: Control isn’t possible. Once we accept that, we take our first, small steps toward grace.”

Heather Havrilesky, The Los Angeles Review of Books

“Stunning. . . . There is a stark beauty to Lee’s writing. Drifting House offers a poignant glimpse into lives divided by history. . . . If you were to substitute the copious soju (a strong Korean spirit similar to sake) consumed here for bourbon, this could be Raymond Carver.”

The Daily Telegraph (London)

“Set in both America and Korea, these are subtle, haunting stories that explore the lives of people caught between two cultures.”

The Sunday Times (London)

“As they sift through the emotional wreckage left by civil war, political brutalities, financial collapse, and the prosaic details of getting by in places they're unwelcome, the individuals in Drifting House reach for resilience amid nearly unimaginable hardship. Lee, who splits her time between South Korea and the United States, is an empathetic chronicler of a perpetually displaced people, writing with the immediacy of someone who has lived their experience.”

SF Weekly

“Impressive. . . . The moral battle between good and evil that resonates through this collection reminds the reader of much of Flannery O’Connor’s short fiction.”

Asia Literary Review

“Almost every story in Krys Lee’s collection Drifting House pulls you in, and begins to work with you as patiently as a novel. A bit of deft characterization here, a subtle pull at your sympathies there, and twenty pages pass quickly by.”

The Seattle Star

Drifting House . . . lays bare [the] wounds of Korea and draws the reader into this fractured world. . . . Krys Lee does not work on a small canvas, and her vision and imagination startle and shock.”

The Washington Independent Review of Books

“Affecting stories about the conflicts between Korean and American culture. . . . Lee writes with a clarity and simplicity of style that discloses deep and conflicting emotions about cultural identity.”

Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

"...breathtaking debut...Readers in search of exquisite short fiction beyond their comfort zone—groupies of Jhumpa Lahiri ... and Yoko Tawada ...—will thrill to discover Drifting House."

Library Journal (Starred Review)

“In this sublime debut collection spanning both Koreas 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. . . . The author’s imaginative metaphors and easy rhythmic variances are unerring, carrying the reader effortlessly. . . . The limpid, naturalistic prose and the flawless internal logic of these stories are reminiscent of the best of Katherine Anne Porter and Carson McCullers.”

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“What wonderful and haunting worlds Krys Lee illuminates—a goose for a goose father, a sympathetic wife made bold by her husband’s infidelity—all facets of a Korea and a Korean America made new by this exciting writer’s entrancing vision.”

Janice Y. K. Lee, author of New York Times bestselling 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, New York Times bestselling author of A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth

“Krys Lee has written a book of unforgettable stories, each one building on the other to create a complex, moving portrait of contemporary Korea and its diaspora. She guides us surely through the fallout of war, immigration, and financial crisis, always alert to the possibility of tenderness, transcendence, and even humor along the way. Lee is a writer who really understands loneliness, but her voice is so appealing, and her perceptions so wise, that we feel all the less lonely for knowing her characters and experiencing their lives.”

—Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, National Book Award finalist; author of Ms. Hempel Chronicles

“Sometimes, with luck, passion, and great skill, fiction accomplishes things nothing else can, things of magical and abiding significance. Krys Lee’s debut story collection is such a book. Drifting House is important for its heartbreaking depiction of the often horrifying plight of North and South Korean immigrants struggling to find dignity and self-definition in their new lives. It introduces us to a subject as old as human struggle itself, and a powerful new writer of highly lyrical gifts.”

Philip Schultz, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Failure

“A shimmering, variegated collection. . . . Masterful. . . . Lee reminds readers . . . that hardship is worth paying attention to, not just for the empathy it draws forth, or for the strength found in characters who manage to come out on the other side, but for its ability to connect people across time and cultures.”


“Identity, loneliness and survival haunt Drifting House, Krys Lee’s debut collection of short stories. . . . Ms Lee has a natural gift for storytelling and her writing displays a rare clarity. The dark images embedded in these stories reveal a world ravaged by pain and conflict, and explore what drives human beings at their most primordial.”

The Economist

“[An] excellent debut. . . . Lee explores and highlights several aspects of Koreans and Korean Americans that are never discussed outside of the confines of those cultures. . . . Lee manages to accomplish a massive task: to explore modern Koreans and their place in both the U.S. and at home, in Seoul. Lee herself straddles both of these cultures, and proves to be a worthy ambassador for both.”


See all Editorial Reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (February 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023256
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023257
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,547,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Krys Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, raised in California and Washington, and studied in the United States and England. She was a finalist for Best New American Voices, received a special mention in the 2012 Pushcart Prize XXXVI, and her work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Narrative magazine, Granta (New Voices), California Quarterly, Asia Weekly, the Guardian, the New Statesman, and Condé Nast Traveller, UK (forthcoming). She lives in Seoul with intervals in San Francisco.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 4, 2012
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.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 7, 2012
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Prunella K. on July 16, 2013
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAME on April 7, 2012
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.
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