Yu-jin is gifted.
Yu-jin is loved.
Yu-jin is flourishing.
Yu-jin is dead.
A profoundly moving and suspenseful drama that untangles the complicated ties that bind families together – or break them apart…
When the Seoul police inform Min that his girlfriend Yu-jin has taken her own life, he’s sure it can’t be true. She was successful, ambitious, happy, just on the cusp of graduating from university and claiming the future she’d always dreamed of.
Min, on the other hand, born to an American father and Korean mother,
has never felt quite the same certainty as Yu-jin about his life’s path. After growing up in California, where he always felt ‘too Korean’ to fit in, he’s moved to Seoul in the hope that
exploring his Korean heritage will help him find a sense of purpose. And when he meets Yu-jin, little does he know that their carefree relationship will set off a chain of events with tragic consequences for them both.
Devastated by Yu-jin’s death, Min throws himself into finding out why she could have secretly wanted to die. Or did she? With a controlling and powerful government official father, and a fraught friendship with her alluring and destructive roommate So-ra, Yu-jin’s life was much more complex than she chose to reveal to Min. And the more he learns about her, the more he begins to doubt he ever really knew her at all.
As Yu-jin’s story – a fraught exploration of selfhood, coming-of-age, and family expectations – collides with Min’s, the result is an engrossing page-turner that poses powerful, urgent questions about cultural identity, family bonds, secrets, and what it truly means to belong.
Yu-jin’s death is reported as committing suicide but her boyfriend Min cannot believe she could do such a thing. Why? She had no reason to. He is sure she must have been killed. And so Min starts to look into what happened.
The police detective, Detective Park, assigned to the case assures Min that whilst all avenues are open it does seem to be that Yu-jin took her own life. Still he understands why Min cannot believe this awful thing and his need to work through what has happened. Park warns Min to be careful.
The book is told from three points of view – Min, Yu-jin and So-ra. So-ra is one of Yu-Jin’s flatmates the other flatmate is Misaki a student from Japan.
As the story progresses we are brought into a world not well known to many. I certainly have never been to Korea (north or south) and the book brings Korea, and particularly Seoul, to life.
When We Fell Apart by Soon Wiley is a book not just about the death of Yu-jin but so much more.
Soon Wiley writes deeply human reactions to the various situations that arise in the book. He portrays the culture of Korea very well, almost as a character itself, through Yu-jin and So-ra’s sections especially when they include Yu-Jins father. Throughout all of the the story’s we get a kind of travelogue too, which adds another fascinating element, layer to his book.
Min, an American, whose ancestors on his mothers side are Korean, has lived in Seoul for about three years. Min has never settled anywhere as he doesn’t feel either American (his father is a white American) or Korean (his mother is American of Korean descent). He has never fitted in, never settled.
After years of hard work Yu-jin finds herself in Seoul at university. Up until then she would have said that she was on course with her education, her career path and on a firm footing with everything else. Just as would be expected of any good daughter in Korea. She understands how privileged her life is even so she seeks to find her own, independent life if only for a while. Things change drastically the moment she moves to Seoul.
So-ra is an artist, a dancer, a free spirited soul she doesn’t conform and becomes Yu-jin’s closest friend. They share a room in the university dorms and later move into a flat together being joined by Misaki.
Misaki is a misfit she has left her family in Japan to study in Seoul, like the others she seems to be looking for a place to be, a place that is her. She knows that she is really only being tolerated by the others – her flatmates – and that many Koreans dislike her because of their country’s history.
This book unveils a culture that is not understanding, or accepting, of non-conformity and does everything it can through those in power to keep it’s people in line with what it believes is right. It shows parents who want the best for their children so long as they stay within these parameters. Whose love may be total but whose sense of shame, for their ancestors and their country, makes certain things intolerable. So much so that action will be taken to preserve what they know and believe is right.
Are more tolerant thoughts and behaviour not permeating even these more strict cultures through visiting workers, tourists and other modern influences? This book shows how difficult it can be to break through such deep seated beliefs and traditions.
All these things come to a head as we follow Min in his search, read Yu-jin’s, So-ra and Misaki’s thoughts into what might be termed as a perfect storm of events or, rather, actions that bring about Yu-jin’s death.
This is a thought provoking, incredibly moving story of love, the pursuit of happiness, of different kinds of sacrifice and the desire to find your place in the world. The pressure put upon our children for what seems to be ‘the right thing’ by parents/guardians, by society, out of love, albeit that this love may be seen as misguided or intolerant. The taking of life in order to preserve perceived family honour. How intolerance, lack of or inability to understand different needs or to be able to communicate them and how secrets, so the need to live a hidden life, can have far reaching and terrible consequences.
When We Fell Apart is a book I would recommend.
My enormous thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation and to Simon and Schuster for an eCopy of When We Fell Apart by Soon Wiley.
Why not check out the rest of the BlogTour and see what everyone says?
Published: Simon and Schuster – 12th May 2022 | Hardback | £14.99
A native of Nyack, New York, Soon Wiley received his BA in English & Philosophy from Connecticut College. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wichita State University. His writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and earned him fellowships in Wyoming and France. He resides in Connecticut with his wife and their two cats. When We Fell Apart is his debut novel.
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