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Shelter: A Novel Hardcover – March 15, 2016
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"In Shelter, Jung Yun takes Tolstoy’s idea that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way and packages it in the most familiar expression of the American Dream: owning a home. What the parents and children in this novel discover is that they can neither take shelter in their houses nor their families. This is domestic drama at its best, a gripping narrative of secrets and revelations that seized me from beginning to end."―Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author of The Sympathizer
"This absorbing, suspenseful début tracks familial obligation and the legacy of trauma... The narrative piles on surprises at a tightly controlled clip, as [Kyung's] family is forced to confront the past and the price it has paid for stability."―The New Yorker
"Gripping...Yun shows how, although shelter doesn’t guarantee safety and blood doesn’t guarantee love, there’s something inextricable about the relationship between a child and a parent…Shelter is captivating.”―The New York Times Book Review
"I read the greater part of Jung Yun's Shelter in a 14-hour sitting, interrupted by only five hours of sleep. I was on a trip, with other people, but I couldn't do anything until I was finished; Yun's debut may be a family drama, but it has all the tension of a thriller. It's a sharp knife of a novel―powerful and damaging, and so structurally elegant that it slides right in....it gets better and richer with every page...Like the writer's version of a no-hitter, Shelter is a marvel of skill and execution, tautly constructed and played without mercy."―Steph Cha, Los Angeles Times
"Jung Yun dazzles in her haunting debut."―US Weekly
“[A] harrowing hybrid of wrenching domestic drama and nail-biting crime procedural―Ordinary People meets In Cold Blood.”―Passport
“[A] fearless and thrilling debut.”―Town & Country
"The tension inside Kyung [is] visceral...Yun skillfully makes his unraveling feel fast-paced and urgent."―Entertainment Weekly
“Yun keeps the suspense and family drama racing neck and neck... Shelter is a suspenseful, illuminating first novel.”―Jane Ciabattari, BBC.com (Nine Books to Read This Month)
"The combination of grisly James Patterson thriller and melancholic suburban drama shouldn’t work at all. Yet Ms. Yun pulls it off...The proximity of Kyung's parents and the atmosphere of grief and panic launch him on a spiral of self-destruction that’s impossible to turn away from."―Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“I was riveted.”―Rumaan Alam, The Millions
"Yun’s powerful and tautly written novel is a brave and engrossing meditation onan adult child’s need to reckon with his past in order to be free."―Min Jin Li, Asia House
"[A] thrilling debut novel...Dark and gripping, Shelter exposes the jagged edges of parent-child relationships and the sacrifices we make in the name of family."―BuzzFeed, 19 Incredible Books You Need to Read This Spring
"What follows is the unfolding of a horrific and complicated crime―not to mention a horrific and complicated hidden family history."―Marie Claire
"Spare and suspenseful...This post-recession novel peels back the layers of emotional damage that the financial crisis wrought....Yun offers glimpses of family secrets as if a searchlight has illuminated them briefly, [and] as the novel continues, those secrets are fully exposed."―MPR News, The Best Books of the Year (So Far)
“[A] beautifully crafted, deeply moving first novel.”―The Chicago Tribune
“If you want high stakes and suspense, you've found your book (I mean, just look at that cover). Jung Yun writes about family and identity and the tight bond between them ― especially when circumstances change in startling ways…Shelter will get your heart beating for sure.”―Bustle, Most Anticipated Books of the Year
"A masterful work of literature."―Electric Literature
"This troubling, moving work from Yun explores what it means to be part of a family, even if it’s nothing close to the one you might choose for yourself."―DuJour, What to Read This Month
"It seems as though every year a novel―and its author―appears out of nowhere and gets readers everywhere talking. This year that book is Shelter, by Korean American writer Jung Yun."―South China Morning Post
“Shocking, and very poignant…This is a dark family drama that reveals layer on layer of what responsibility and duty mean, and what it looks like when they clash with an individual’s long-suppressed sense of self.”―Times Literary Supplement (London)
"[Shelter] has all the tension and pace of a thriller. Replete with secrets, misunderstandings, and guilt, this is a powerful novel about what home really means."―The Daily Mail (UK)
"In other hands, this material could fall apart or lose steam, but Jung Yun keeps it together through pitch-perfect, but flawed narrator Kyung and a high-tension storyline...An unexpected page-turner."―The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
"A searing and beautifully written novel that still haunts me―I found it hard to put it down...Jung Yun elevates ordinary suffering and shame into literary art with an unflinching honesty."―The International Examiner
"Yun's emotional perspicacity and tensile prose combine to turn it into something deeper than mere family melodrama..Shelter emerges as rich and multi-layered."―The Toronto Star
“Poignant, spellbinding, and profound, Shelter will keep you up until the wee hours. In her brilliant debut novel, Yun skillfully untangles this snarled web of family lies, tragedy, identity, and loss. Redemption is hard-earned, and kindness comes in rare and unexpected places, but hope shimmers just beneath the surface. This is a book of heartbreaking genius.”―Mira Bartók, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and bestselling author of The Memory Palace
“Jung Yun's Shelter is an urgent novel, a book so alive, contemporary, and, above all, honest, that it could only exist right now.”―James Scott, bestselling author of The Kept
“Magnetic, searing, insightful, Shelter is a mic-drop of a debut: a story of post-financial crisis America that establishes Jung Yun as a necessary new voice in American fiction.”―Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night
“Like Celeste Ng’s super-lauded best seller, Everything You Never Told Me, also about a dysfunctional mixed-race family’s tragedy, [Shelter] should find itself on best-of lists, among major award nominations, and in eager readers’ hands everywhere."―Library Journal (starred review)
"[Yun's] commitment to offering the world a delicately wrought but utterly unlacquered account of family dynamics is courageous...A stunning debut."―The Daily Review (Australia)
"[Kyung's] reversal of fortune leads to dramatic and surprising revelations, dissecting questions of familial duty, betrayal and forgiveness. Jung Yun's Shelter weaves an intricately plotted intergenerational drama, delivered in cool spare prose."―The Age (Australia)
“There’s more than enough to appreciate in this above-average debut. Expect great things from Jung Yun.”―Bookreporter.com
“Arresting...A strikingly suspenseful debut novel, Shelter digs into the secrets and troubles of two generations in a Massachusetts Korean-American family."―Shelf Awareness (starred review)
"Shelter maintains its narrative momentum right to the end...[A] valiant portrayal of contemporary American life."―Kirkus Reviews
"Skilled [and] deeply disconcerting...A work of relentless psychological sleuthing and sensitive insight."―Booklist
“With each page, Yun takes us deeper into Kyung’s troubles…As the crime drama unfolds in the background, Yun expertly explores what it means to be an immigrant in America, the true value of tradition, the parent-child bond, what makes a good marriage, and the need for forgiveness… Yun introduces us to a man riddled with anger and self-doubt, leaving the reader to judge whether time can truly mend what’s broken.”―BookPage
“In her intense debut, Yun explores the powerful legacy of familial violence and the difficulty of finding the strength and grace to forgive... This family drama [is] rife with tension and unexpected ironies.”―Publishers Weekly
About the Author
JUNG YUN was born in South Korea, grew up in North Dakota, and educated at Vassar College, the University of Pennsylvania, and University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her work has appeared in Tin House (the “Emerging Voices” issue); The Best of Tin House: Stories, edited by Dorothy Allison; and The Massachusetts Review; and she is the recipient of two Artist Fellowships in fiction from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and an honorable mention for the Pushcart Prize. Currently, she lives in Baltimore with her husband and serves as an Assistant Professor of English at the George Washington University.
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Shelter tells the story of a Korean man, Kyung, and his wife, Gillian, living deeply in debt with their young son. Kyung has been estranged from his family for years, and is unwilling to ask them for help, although they live in the most exclusive neighbourhood in their town. All of this changes the morning that Kyung and Gillian show their home to a realtor: they spot Kyung's mother wandering, naked and beaten, in their back yard. The family is thrust together in the wake of the violent event that occurred to Kyung's parents, and old tensions quickly surface: resentment, mistrust, anger, guilt, disappointment, and fear.
Shelter is not an easy book, nor a light book. It is graphic in its descriptions of violence, and full of deeply flawed characters. Yun does an excellent job of making the characters both revolting and sympathetic in turn. It is an extremely complex portrait of a broken family.
I don't know that I feel comfortable recommending this kind of book, simply because it is such a heavy read. That doesn't mean it isn't a good book: I did 'enjoy' it, as much as one can 'enjoy' reading something so heavy. If you are looking for an excellent read without any candy-coating or, necessarily, properly happy endings, then this might be just the one for you.
Started: May 23, 2016
Finished: May 23, 2016
This is a psychological study of a layer of themes - (the impact of) domestic violence, filial duty, parenting, class, racism, immigration, identity (and probably more) - that also reads like a thriller. I was very impressed at how nuanced and precise the author was at identifying and exposing the most subtle complexities in human emotions. I found her writing fluid and well-paced for the most part, minus some (just a few) scenes and details that were a bit too drawn out in my opinion. I also appreciated that the book was written in a traditional format - no jumping around in time or in different characters' perspectives. The story is told chronologically and in the third person.
The book is constantly moving but you can feel the despair heavily, and about 60% of the way through I began to wonder if this was a place I wanted to inhabit; you get into Kyung's mind and there is so much anger and anguish there (understandably so). (Some readers complained about the main character but I think his inertia and anger come with the territory - he would be more likable if he were mentally healthier, but then there would be no point to the book...) I also found some of the events of the book a bit over the top, not saying this doesn't happen in real life... Having said all this, the merits overall well outweigh my 'complaints' and I found this one of the most personally worthwhile books I've read. While the events in the book are extreme compared to what I have gone through, the themes of parenting legacies and filial duty are ones that resonate with me deeply, and I appreciate a book that has captured so well these universal struggles. This book found me at the right time in my life as I am caring for aging parents with whom I've had an up and down relationship.