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Long for This World: A Novel Hardcover – March 2, 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Han Hyun-ku appears on the doorstep of his younger brother's home in Korea nearly 40 years after he immigrated to America, the far-flung members of the Han family find their lives unexpectedly intersecting in this elegant debut novel. Han Hyun-ku's adult daughter, Jane, a photojournalist who narrowly escaped death from an explosion in Baghdad, follows her father to Korea, inwardly pleased that he has left behind her alcoholic, self-centered mother. Meanwhile, Jane cannot shake her memories of the harrowing experience that ended her longtime relationship with her ex and sent her to Baghdad. In Korea, Han Jung-joo, Han Hyun-ku's sister-in-law, accepts the arrival of these unexpected guests with her usual serenity, but as her worry for her pregnant, troubled daughter grows, the household begins to break apart. Han Jung-joo's younger brother, a divorced artist, arrives, precipitating events that change everyone's lives forever. Switching deftly between different characters' points of view, Chung portrays with precision and grace each character's struggle to find his or her place in the family and in the world. (Mar.)
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From Library Journal

The title of Chung's exquisite novel seems to be missing a word: "not long for this world" would be the easy, expected phrase. But little is easy or expected in this multilayered story of two brothers—one Korean and the other who chooses to become Korean American—and their scattered families, whose lives converge in a perfectly blended East/West house on a faraway Korean island. When Han Hyun-ku unexpectedly arrives at his younger brother's home, he is escaping an American life circumscribed by a detached wife and troubled son. His exhausted daughter, Jane, a renowned photojournalist of death and destruction, follows her missing father. Strangers that they are even among family, father and daughter are gratefully absorbed into a seemingly easy rhythm, but the temporary peace cannot ease inevitable tragedy. "Some people are not long for this world," Jane remarks. "The rest of us survive." VERDICT Readers who enjoyed superbly crafted, globe-trotting family sagas such as Kamila Shamsie's Burnt Shadows, Naeem Murr's The Perfect Man, or Changrae Lee's A Gesture Life will swoon over Chung's breathtaking debut. —Terry Hong, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, Washington, DC

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (March 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416599622
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416599623
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,112,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gregory A. Zuroski on April 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I was introduced to Sonya Chung and her first novel, Long for this World, at a bookstore author appearance and I anticipated liking it. Still, I was really impressed by how good it is and how compelling the characters and the story are.

The story is that of the members of the Han family, some of whom have emigrated to the United States and some who have remained in Korea. Told from the perspective of Jane, an American-born daughter of immigrants, it develops the personal stories and the emotions of a handful of characters and in so doing, explores a number of themes including: the Korean-American experience; the immigrant experience; family and sibling relationships; friendship and attraction; and ultimately, on how the currents on which our lives float are formed by people and events around us, some close and some at some distance in time and place.

The portrait of Jane, the narrator, a photojournalist, is a real achievement. I was interested in her as soon as the story began and she just kept becoming more fascinating throughout the book. Making her a photojournalist and in fact a war correspondent was a very good artistic decision. It allows the author to describe events and characters visually within the media of a novel that is after all created of words and in that way, abstract. Jane views the world through a camera's lens and we see it framed in ways that she chooses. It is a very effective device. At her presentation, Ms. Chung indicated that she had worked hard to render this character realistically despite the fact that she herself had little personal experience with photography or photojournalism before researching for the book.

There seems to be conversation at how this book speaks to female readers especially.
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Long for This World is bold and subtle, thought-provoking and entertaining. Page after page is filled with writing that made me think: Aha! I know that feeling, but could not articulate it (at all, let alone as beautifully), revealing the many layers that can course through a single moment.

The story of the Korean American Han's and the Korean Han's covers a panoramic distance across the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Yet the story is not sprawling, it is deep and intimate, filled with the thoughts and feelings of an array of distinct and beautifully rendered characters.

Although the main character Ah Jin (Jane) is a war photographer, and there are vivid scenes that take the reader into the war zone, the most dangerous moments in the story seem to occur during ordinary interactions; between a daughter and her mother, a sister and her brother, a husband and a wife. Much of the story takes place in a small town in Korea inland from the ocean, where "...there is little that happens here in the country, and yet the air moves, it is dynamic, taste and texture and life happen in the breeze." Although a lot happens in this story, we also get to experience what happens "in the breeze." Just like a stop-motion movie that shows a field of flowers blossom in the springtime, we get to see the inner shifts and changes inside the characters, the story takes us places we can't ordinarily go in real life.

Even minor characters are rendered with finesse. Dr. Lee, as Jane calls her mother, is a remote woman, who (ironically) is more devoted to her psychiatric career than to her family. Jane is not close to her mother, yet she tries to imagine what her mother's life was like when she grew up. She imagines that Dr.
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Format: Hardcover
Long For This World is a family saga, but it's not just a simple "story of us." The novel has an unforgettable plot that places the story in many realities, geographic and metaphysical. Although it explores the missed opportunities and tragedies of two branches of the Han family (one in America, one in Korea), Chung has deftly placed the story in the larger backdrop of the human family. The first death the protagonist Jane experiences is one in a distant Syria and it's part of her job as a photojournalist. She doesn't know it, but it will be one of several deaths in her life...each getting increasingly closer to home.

I agree with the other reviewers at this site who compared Chung's writing to Murakami and Chekhov. Chung's writing contains the crepuscular magic of Murakami and the fine-tuned alertness of Chekhov. She has a keen eye for human relationships and the ties that bind. Her probing gaze delves into the different rooms in the human heart, rooms of desire, despair, longing, escape, indifference, and discovers that sometimes it's in the empty rooms--the rooms we deliberately leave empty, thinking them redundant--that our destiny lies.

Long after I finished this book I was haunted by the characters and the choices they made. Although Long For This World is a page turner, my advice is to resist the temptation to rush through it. I urge you to slow down and savour it.
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I can't say enough about this book; complex and so moving, the characters are real enough that you expect to meet them on the street; they stick with you long after the last page--you hope to get an email update on what happened next. It is an immersion in an unfamiliar culture with none of the sometimes daunting concern that not exactly understanding the references, or the cultural code, will be a chore; yet also without tedious explanations. The story unfolds in graceful, resonant prose, accessible yet dipping into the reader's deep undercurrents of thought and feeling. This book has impact. And, the people in Ms. Chung's novel are people first: flawed, complete, knowable; and then they are women and men, children and parents, survivors and casualties; and then they are Korean. This was a wonderful read.
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