Review: Nuclear Family: A Novel by Joseph Han


My Interest

For once I failed to note where I found this. So, if it was your blog, please let me know, ok? I love to give credit where it is due.

The book captured my attention for a couple of reasons: Hawaii is a state I know really only for Pearl Harbor and Magnum PI (the REAL one with Tom Selleck). And, Korea–I only know my neighbor and our late friend at church were both in the war (“police action”) that spanwed the t.v. show, M*A*S*H). Plus, it was a family story with a family business–that all sounded good.

The Story

The restaurant was louder than Grace could accommodate and process, and working the register was no worse than the sound she detested the most: the scooping of mac salad, squishing, her skull being emptied of a brain, eaten away by the thought of working another hour.

Grace’s parents moved to Hawaii and opened what became a small 3 location chain of “Korean plate lunch” restaurants. A family business. In Hawaii, the US military, Hawaiians, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and mainlanders are all thrown together. Grace though embraces a different culture–she’s a stoner and wanna-be graduate student. Meanwhile, as graduate schools process her application, she is still manning the cash register in one of the family’s restaurants.

Grace’s brother, Jacob, has taken a job teaching English in one of the many after school “schools” (tutoring centers) that Koreans so often make their kids attend. While there he is taken over by the ghost of his grandfather who deserted the family. The family fled from the North to the South during the war. Jacob wrestles with the spirit in much the same way a believer might who feels taken over by Satan could wrestle–like what is plotted in the Screwtape Letters. On a visit to the DMZ Jacob seems to try to go into North Korea. Back home, a little later, a mistake leaves the world thinking North Korea is sending missles to hit Hawaii.

My Thoughts

“,,,this is how I walk the Earth without you….”

Parts of this book were very good. Other parts were very tedious. For example, what was the point of reading long lists of names? Very dull. I recall where ever it was I first read about this book saying they’d have liked the book to be more conventional. I agree a good bit with that. Surprisingly, I was not put off by the ghost part. Usually I’d roll my eyes and pass on a book with that! It was ok. The spirit life line got a bit long though. I’d have liked more of the “normal life” side of the story.

I like Grace more than I Jacob. I thought she was the “smart one” brought back to life [see the spirit part of the book]. One review mention a gender aspect, but I must be too dense or too old or whatever to catch that part. I did wonder why the spanking thing was necessary–was I wrong to take that as  _ e-x–l?

I found the attitude toward the Christianity many Koreans embrace to be respectful, A little tongue-in-cheek here or there, but not rude or derogatory. That was a nice surprise. And, for a book written a few years ago and published finally in 2022 there were not hit-you-over-the-head messages about how awful a certain President was. Sick of that, even if I didn’t vote for him.

I look forward to reading more from this author even if I didn’t find this book as “creative” and all the other gushing words the big reviewers used. He tells a good story and should get even better at it with time. The unusual elements in this book did add to the telling of the story, but a little pruning of them would have helped.

Now I’m desperate for SPAM and kimchi though!

And, isn’t that cover gorgeous!! I love it.

My Verdict


4 thoughts on “Review: Nuclear Family: A Novel by Joseph Han

Add yours

  1. The cover really is pretty and I like the Korean connection. I have a Korean piano student and I’ve talked to her mom some. Interesting cultural differences! Good review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed your review and yes, that’s a lovely cover. I just love the colors. I have always liked reading about the Asian cultures. They are fascinating to me. I’ve been to Hawaii two times for vacations and once for the birth of a granddaughter. Didn’t have SPAM or kimchi though, but daughter took us to many out-of-way places to eat.

    Liked by 1 person

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