Chasing the Korean-American dream

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Chasing the Korean-American dream

Many Koreans must wait for years, even decades, to obtain immigration papers for that mythical place where they will find success and happiness, where all their dreams will come true ― America. What they may not know is that the Korean-American experience is rarely easy, none too simple and far from perfect. In his debut novel, “Subkorean,” Charles Kim, an American-born child of Korean immigrants, explores this topic through the tumultuous lives of four fictional Korean-Americans living in New York City.
Allen Cho, a piano- and violin-playing graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, loses his high-salary finance job and is reduced to pursuing a blond bombshell he calls “Wonder Woman.” Kalbi Jim, a well-liked drug dealer, helps a Korean-American teen get off the streets and considers “returning” to a country he’s never seen. Jin Young, who wears a sock over her deformed hand, knows “how to smile and look harmless” in order to survive as an obvious foreigner. Suzy, a stunning and brazen prostitute, declares, “I’m breaking out on my own. I want to have the American Dream like everyone else.”
Many of the struggles the characters endure are universal enough for all readers to identify with, yet the characters can never forget or ignore their ethnicity. They face Korea-born Koreans who cringe at the sound of English and discriminate against them, non-Koreans who associate them with blue-collar jobs like dry cleaning and Korean-Americans who reject them for not conforming to the mold of the model minority. In the land of opportunity, children are estranged from their parents, parents are distanced from their children and teenagers commit suicide ― even Korean-Americans. Charles Kim takes the neat stereotypes commonly given to Asian-Americans, such as “the sex kitten” and “the academic whiz,” and subverts them to his advantage. As a result, he gives his readers an enlightening look into the experience that millions of immigrants call their own. The Korean-Americans in this novel search for identity and love in a complex, destructive world of drugs, sex and money where they’re often too American but not Korean enough. “Speaking English. Acting American. Thinking American?they were confused about it all.” It is a place where Koreans come with hopes of a better life, but where some reach the conclusion that “the American Dream is more often a nightmare.”

by Charles Kim
227 pages
Available at for $21.99.

by Julie Park
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