APALA Adult Literature Honor Book
Longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel
Longlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Prize
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A TIME Best Book of the Year
Set in the months leading up to the 2018 nuclear missile false alarm, a Korean American family living in Hawai'i faces the fallout of their eldest son's attempt to run across the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea in this "fresh, inventive, and at times, hilarious novel" (Kaui Hart Hemmings, author of The Descendants)
Things are looking up for Mr. and Mrs. Cho. Their dream of franchising their Korean plate lunch restaurants across Hawaiʻi seems within reach after a visit from Guy Fieri boosts the profile of Cho’s Delicatessen. Their daughter, Grace, is busy finishing her senior year of college and working for her parents, while her older brother, Jacob, just moved to Seoul to teach English. But when a viral video shows Jacob trying—and failing—to cross the Korean demilitarized zone, nothing can protect the family from suspicion and the restaurant from waning sales.
No one knows that Jacob has been possessed by the ghost of his lost grandfather, who feverishly wishes to cross the divide and find the family he left behind in the north. As Jacob is detained by the South Korean government, Mr. and Mrs. Cho fear their son won’t ever be able to return home, and Grace gets more and more stoned as she negotiates her family’s undoing. Struggling with what they don’t know about themselves and one another, the Chos must confront the separations that have endured in their family for decades.
Set in the months leading up to the 2018 false missile alert in Hawaiʻi, Joseph Han’s profoundly funny and strikingly beautiful debut novel is an offering that aches with histories inherited and reunions missed, asking how we heal in the face of what we forget and who we remember.
Han makes a smashing debut with this stunning take on identity and migration told through the multiple perspectives of a Korean American family. The story centers on Jacob Cho, who, while teaching English in South Korea, makes international headlines after attempting and failing to cross into North Korea. It turns out, though, that Jacob was possessed by the ghost of his dead grandfather, Baik Tae-woo. While Jacob is interrogated by South Korean authorities and struggles to understand what's going on, his parents and younger sister, Grace, living in Honolulu, deal with the resulting fallout at their Korean plate lunch restaurant, which loses business and suffers from vandalism due to rumors about them possibly being North Korean spies. Grace, a senior in college, suffers from panic attacks and gets frequently stoned after Jacob's incident, and the ghost of Baik Tae-woo is revealed to be a trickster who got Jacob to help him cross the border in order to return to the family he'd abandoned during the Korean War. The family members contend with why Jacob and Grace's mother moved the family to Hawaii from Korea, and what drove Jacob away. Each short chapter takes readers deep into the heart of each character's dilemmas, and while it's heartbreaking, it's also sharply hilarious, as with a description of television host Guy Fieri, whose airbrushed imprimatur radiates from behind the Chos' counter: "he who has risen from flame decals, born by accident when his Camaro crashed into the Food Network." This is a master class from a brilliant new voice.