Reviewed by Marcus Hammond

“Immigrants. Not here nor there, not this or that. Indeterminate and silenced.” – “The Believer,” by Krys Lee

The nine short stories presented by Krys Lee in Drifting House represent shadows of people who once had an identity, but are lost in political, social, and/or personal chaos. Lee’s stories paint a picture of a quagmire of suffering inflicted by and on a cast of Korean characters that represent everyone from immigrants in America, North Korean refugees in various locations, as well as newlyweds, divorcees, and the young and old alike. Each story is beautifully composed and painfully vivid in portraying the physical and mental anguish of each character. This is so prevalent throughout the stories that it becomes exhausting to experience as a helpless witness.

In “At the Edge of the World” a nine year old Korean/Chinese boy witnesses the pain and disruption that his mother and stepfather’s experience in North Korea, and that they carry with them to the United States. The story is written from the young boy’s perspective and captures the innocent imagination and lack of focus that one would except from such a character. While his stepfather suffers from the loss of his brother, and his mother tries to reject all Korean customs for their new American ones, Mark is more worried about ruling the world alongside his first crush who lives next door.

Many of the stories throughout the collection represent the theme of loss; the loss of a mother, of a daughter, of innocence and identity. The title story follows three orphans as they try to survive in the North Korean winter. Their mother left them to starve for the possible security of China. The orphans try to follow, but find the wilderness and heavily armed North Korean border guards to be too much to overcome. The story does an amazing job of capturing the insecurity of these young orphans and the horrible desperation that is a major part of the Korean heritage.

At points, the horrible situations portrayed are so miserable and desperate that the reader may want to stop reading. The underlying need of each character to find both an identity and security connects to an intense desire to see the character through to the end. Though these are not feel good stories, they do bring to light moments that should be further illuminated throughout the world.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

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After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Viking Adult. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.