Title: Everything Asian
Author: Sung J. Woo
Published: April 14, 2009
Page Count: 336
Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
My Rating: 4/5
You’re twelve years old. A month has passed since your Korean Air flight landed at lovely Newark Airport. Your fifteen-year-old sister is miserable. Your mother isn’t exactly happy, either. You’re seeing your father for the first time in five years, and although he’s nice enough, he might be, well–how can you put this delicately?–a loser.
You can’t speak English, but that doesn’t stop you from working at East Meets West, your father’s gift shop in a strip mall, where everything is new.
Welcome to the wonderful world of David Kim.
This novel revolves around the Kim family, recent immigrants from South Korea. The father has been in the United States for five years, working in his small shop during that time, saving money in order to bring the rest of the family over. When David, the narrator and the only character we ever hear from in the first person, finally arrives to America he speaks almost zero English and doesn’t remember his own father. The book is the story of the Kims’ adjustment to living in America, as well as how they interact with those around them in the mall where their shop, East Meets West, is stationed.
Everything Asian really surprised me. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but I certainly didn’t expect what I got. I was hoping to like the book, but based on the description (and, not gonna lie, the cover didn’t do much for me either) I thought it would be okay at best. I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up connecting with the Kim family and voraciously reading about them in just a few short sittings. This book is incredibly charming – David is just so sweet, so naive in an adorable way, that you can’t help but feel for him and root for him to adjust quickly and be happy in the United States. All of the characters really endeared themselves to me and snuck into my heart – I couldn’t help but want things to go well for them. I really felt for the Kim family, I can’t imagine what it must be like to come to a strange country without knowledge of the langugage, start your own business, and create your own future. The idea itself sounds impossible to me. But I know that millions of people do it, both here in the U.S. and in other countries too, and that’s part of why I enjoyed the story so much. It’s fiction, but there are families living a very similar life all over the place.
The book is best described as a novel in stories. It is definitely a concrete novel, it follows a mostly linear timeline and there’s a clear beginning, middle, and end to it. But each chapter is absolutely a short story in and of itself. You could read any one of the chapters, and even though you may not be intimately acquainted with the characters, you would get enough of a sense of them to fully understand and appreciate what that chapter offers. This is not the case with most novels, and it’s clear that Woo has experience with short stories because each chapter is it’s own little gem. Really, I truly appreciated the crafty storytelling that went into writing the book in this way. I’m not a huge short story person, but this novel really worked for me. Perhaps because the short stories were part of an overall novel, I don’t know, but it was just wonderful.
Highly recommended. An unexpectedly great read.