Jung Yun

06 April 2017
336 pages


A powerful domestic drama, Shelter reveals the secrets and troubles of two generations of a Korean-American family.

You never know what goes on behind closed doors.

Kyung Cho owns a house that he can't afford. Despite his promising career as a tenure-track professor, he and his wife, Gillian, have always lived beyond their means. Now their 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 neighbourhood. Growing up, they gave Kyung every possible advantage – expensive hobbies, private tutors – 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 decides to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves under the same roof where tensions quickly mount and old resentments rise to the surface.

As Shelter veers swiftly towards its startling conclusion, Jung Yun leads us through dark and violent territory, where, unexpectedly, the Chos discover hope. In the tradition of House of Sand and Fog and The Ice Storm, Shelter is a masterfully crafted first novel that asks what it means to provide for one's family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.

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 . . . We may each respond in our own way, but I'll go ahead and assume that a good amount of folks, regardless of the pain they may have experienced from bad mothers and fathers, and regardless of cultural traditions, will feel the pull to help save their parents. "Shelter" is captivating in chronicling this story.
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 . . . Yun has written the rare novel that starts with a strong premise and gets better and richer with every page, each scene perfectly selected, building on the last. The language, at first blush plain and functional, reveals itself as the right medium for a story of unusual urgency - not simple but bony, spare and precise . . . Shelter is a marvel of skill and execution, tautly constructed and played without mercy.
A fluidly written debut novel that explores violence and its effects on one immigrant family . . . [A] layered, sometimes surprising debut . . . A diverse and nuanced cast of characters seeks shelter from pain and loneliness in this valiant portrayal of contemporary American life.