Book Review : Shelter by Jung Yun

by chloepeh

I finished the book in 3 days during the work week with the spare time I had after office hours. That’s a speedy one, by my standards.. My usual pace is much slower because I take more time to ‘digest’. This book is a quick page flipper. The author, Jung Yun, writes with much clarity which is paired with an intense, fast paced story line.

To summarize, this story is about an Korean American man, Kyung, who has a wife and 4 year old son. He’s estranged from his parents due to an unpleasant childhood attributed mainly by his parents’ dysfunctional marriage. One day, an act of violence befell on Kyung’s parents and he is forced to face the issues which had been deeply rooted in their family dynamics – on top of coping with the recent traumatic event.

Disclaimer: This is unlike a standard Goodreads book review with a comprehensive dissection of the pros and cons, as I am so not a professional critic.

What I Enjoyed

The flow

The story has a comfortable flow – it slows down to emphasize important interactions between the characters – especially between Kyung and his wife, and Kyung and his mother. I personally enjoyed the i nternal monologue that Kyung has. It is also fast paced enough to jump to the next milestone ommiting any overly explanatory inbetweens that you expect in some novels. I like that there is room for you to fill in the gaps of the story with your imagination and you won’t feel like missed out much.

How the story shifts was unexpectably quick. Just like how a person’s mind would switch from one decision to a completely different one.

The shock value

As concise as the writing is, it is also quick to depict in a graphic manner. At some parts, I was definitely thrown off guard.
*Spoiler Alert: Kyung’s mother had ran towards to Kyung’s house, naked, to seek emergency help. What he noticed, on top of her badly bruised body, was a savagery sight that the hair below had been ripped out. Kyung was immediately raged at his father, thinking his father had hit his mother again. However, Kyung was wrong. His parents’ home had been violently intruded by two men.

What actually happened to his mother was clearly narrated afterwards, but not before generating sufficient tension and speculation from the reader.

Relatable character

I don’t know how this felt so relatable seeing as I’m neither a man with family nor have an abusive childhood while growing up. I suppose it is how this man’s thoughts and emotions had been realistically depicted. It is not pretty nor sugar coated. His inner dialogue is raw and jaded with reality. 

Kyung has an internal conflict between loving his wife, appreciating the beauty in her strength – yet at the same time, feeling the novelty had worn out, and criticising internally on how she makes his life difficult. During an argument, thinking to himself : ‘It seems like she does not know when is enough is enough. What more does she want from me’. Ouch.

I found myself empathising with Kyung greatly, accepting his rationalisation – how he attributed his flaws to a bad childhood, and how badly positioned he is. It took me awhile to step out of his inner thought process to see his character for what it is. I’m not sure if he is a great husband, or father, or son. Now that I’ve finished the book, I’m not sure if I would like Kyung if he was real and I were to meet him in person. And this has got to be the magical part of a novel.

My Only Qualm

My personal take on the ending is that it is rather odd, almost not quite believable. Got me wondering if sorry is really enough to make all go away? Everything did click into place, which Kyung would eventually reach a place of forgiveness and peace. However with all the heaviness, it’s going to take time. Almost felt like the story was wrapped up for the sake of it. But i suppose readers get the point. It’s not outrageously ridiculous though, just too hasty for my liking. 

To Conclude

This one is worth the read with primary focus on family dynamics – however it’s not a light one. For me, I’m definitely looking forward for Jung Yun’s next work. This is pretty impressive for a debut.