Author: Soon Wiley
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Available: 12th May 2022 in Hardback and eBook
Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours and Simon & Schuster for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.
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.
Part of my love of books, is that they offer and provide me an opportunity to view people, places and perspectives that are different from my own and it was this that drew me to Soon Wiley’s debut novel When We Fell Apart; it is a magnificent, melancholic, moving, mysterious read. Echoes of its content, linger with you long after you have finished reading. It is a literary experience not to be overlooked and one I highly recommend you embark on. Beautifully written and constructed and it cannot fail to make an impact on you, as it has me.
Let me give you a little taste of what this book is about; Min is a Korean American and like any of us, wishes to find his place in this world but when your origins are from two diametrically different social, political, cultural, and geographic backgrounds, discovering and exploring your personal history is vital in establishing an understanding of yourself and where you fit, your identity. To do this, Min has moved to Korea and has started to build a new life and a natural part of this is to make friends and embark on relationships and build a sense of belonging. Yu-Jin is his girlfriend, from a prestigious family, her father has great power and status and with this comes the expectation and extraordinary pressure on his daughter to be successful, regardless of any else and very early on in the story, you can see Yu-Jin fulfilling this expectation but at the same time, utilising it to attempt relieve the relentless pressure on herself, yet to no avail and as a reader, I think you can see, that she can’t really escape.
Min is seemingly oblivious to her predicament and it comes as an overwhelming shock when he receives news that Yu-Jin has taken her own life! And like anyone who has experienced such a tragic loss, he searches for answers; how could he have missed this, how could he have changed the outcome, did he really know Yu-Jin at all, his guilt, frustration, sadness are all palpable…so is his need to find and understand the reason/s of why she would do this, what in her life could have made her believe that her only recourse was to die…Min makes it his mission to find out and in doing so, he may find more understanding of self.
What makes this novel so powerful, is that as readers we are omnipotent and are given a broader insight of events and the characters, so you have a sensation of knowing more than the characters and a sense of what might occur next but without it being confirmed. I loved how Soon, revealed both Min’s and Yu-Jin’s alternating perspectives, their backstories and current progression through life and the myriad of facets that made them the people they are. I found the juxtaposition between Min’s life in American and his life in Korea fascinating, that his reality is/was that despite having roots in both places, he didn’t really fit in either! And with Yu-Jin, she stole my heart if I am honest, her journey, her reasoning, her choices come from both a personal and a cultural perspective that is almost emotionally incomprehensible; the Korean concept of ‘Han’, a ‘collective despair’ over the failure to be able to choose one’s own destiny, individually or nationally…Han is the essence that prevails when this right is repressed and an understanding of this concept, provides an anchor for us as readers to comprehend Yu-Jin’s decision/s.
The more I read this novel, the more I appreciated Soon’s ability to transport me vicariously into another world, his knowledge and skill in depicting Korea’s complicated nature, it’s vibrant culture and turbulent history, he educates and enlightens his readers throughout. This is a clever, complex book; it is thought provoking and profound and when the heavy hitting themes are engaged, those of identity, of culture, of grief, of loss and Soon wealds and weaves them adroitly and sensitively through the voices of his characters and their environments. Once you read this book, you will never forget it and as this is Soon’s first novel, I shall be very interested to see and read what he writes next.
Happy Reading Bookophiles…
About the Author:
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.
Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.