Shelter by Jung Yun
Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future.
A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighborhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage―private tutors, expensive hobbies―but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help. Yet when an act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and he’s compelled to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves living under the same roof. Tensions quickly mount as Kyung’s proximity to his parents forces old feelings of guilt and anger to the surface, along with a terrible and persistent question: how can he ever be a good husband, father, and son when he never knew affection as a child?
As Shelter veers swiftly toward its startling conclusion, Jung Yun leads us through dark and violent territory, where, unexpectedly, the Chos discover hope. Shelter is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one's family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.
It's hard to break down the many reasons why I like this book and recommend it to anyone. Although Shelter tells the story of young Korean American professor Kyung Cho and his American wife, it's largely a story of the complicated relationship that Kyung has with his wealthy parents. Kyung's parents immigrated from Korea to the US as his father went to graduate school in Engineering. His father Jin wasn't a popular professor but he was hardworking and brilliant in his field - the patents that he created have been successful and give millions to the school each year. His mother was much younger and had been vulnerable to his father's moods and abuse. While Jin never physically abused his son, Mae tended to beat Kyung after having been beaten herself.
Much of Kyung's current relationship with his parents is tainted by his desire to vent his anger and resentment for the years of childhood abuse. Kyung keeps his wife and son away from his parents, refusing their gifts and offers of trips to their home and beach house, avoiding contact as much as possible. Kyung does enough to appear to be a respectful son, but his parents are painfully aware of his dislike and desire to keep away.
When his family suffers a brutal and devastating attack, Kyung is forced to care for his parents. He has to get over their family history and his temper in order to move forward, it's uncertain whether he can move beyond his past.
Jung Yun tells the story of the Cho family, including the complicated relationship that Kyung has with his American wife Gillian and his in-laws. We learn how Kyung and the Chos are in relation to the Korean minister who relies heavily on Jin's donations. Yun tells a difficult story in a clear, direct way but with sympathy for the characters. While I would get frustrated and annoyed at Kyung Cho, I could picture the family dynamics and appreciate that Shelter gives us a rare glimpse into a Korean point of view. Part family drama and part detective mystery, Shelter delivers an engrossing read.
About the Author:
Jung Yun is the author of the novel, SHELTER (Picador, March 2016). Previously, her work has appeared in Tin House, The Best of Tin House: Stories, and The Massachusetts Review. You can follow Jung at @JungYun71 on Twitter or Instagram, and see what she's been reading at Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/author/show/14054951.Jung_Yun). For more information on local readings and events, please visit www.jungyun.info.