Shelter


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I felt like this was a very fast read.  Dedicating approximately 40 minutes a day , I read it in a little less than 2 weeks.  While the topics weren't necessarily pleasant, the reading was.  The man character is a 36 year old Korean man for whom I felt a lot of sympathy even though he is not something I could normally relate to.  The novel is set primarily in Boston where Kyung Cho and his father, Jin, are professors.  Kyung's mom is Mae, still married to his father.  About 5 years before the novel begins Kyung eloped with an Irish gal named Gillian.  They have a 4 year old son, Ethan.  Gillian's family is her father Connie and brother Tim (McFadden) - both local police officers.  Kyung was 4 when they moved to the U.S. so his parents had traditional Korean values but Kyung does not speak much Korean.  (If you are doing the 2017 NYPL Read Harder challenge this book fits into the by an immigrant/about an immigrant category as the author was also born in Korea and moved to the U.S.)

The book is divided into long chapters spread across three parts (Dawn, Dusk and Night).

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex:  2

Religion: 4

Gruesome: 2

Suspense: 3

Morality: 3

Traditional:  5

Sex - a factual report of a rape.  Minor graphic details (p. 204-205).

Religion - (p. 41-42) Presbyterians appreciated Jin for money.  Gillian's mom, while alive, took the family to mass because that's what the neighbors did (p. 46).  After a rape, a man says the victim needs a psychiatrist, not God, God didn't help when it happened.  Church family very supportive.  A funeral with several, long Bible quotes.

Gruesome - Ch. 2 recounts the attack with some gruesome details.

Suspense - Part 3 was a little suspenseful to find out what happened during Kyung's missing time.

Morality - a husband starts to have impure thoughts about a cleaning lady (p. 170).  A hookup begins and ends abruptly (p. 204-205).

Traditional - 

Chapter 1 reminds me of Chris Bohjalian's "The Guest Room" - it starts out with normal people doing normal life stuff and then something so chaotic is thrown in that is just on the edge of your comfort zone.  It's like looking at a wreck when you drive by - even though it probably won't, you know it might one day happen to you and you can't help looking at it and thinking about it a bit.

I was a little confused when a character started giving her husband the silent treatment and then threw him out.  I thought maybe he had said something when he was drunk but she was basing it on a garment she found in the house.  Considering they had had two women house guests of late, it seemed rather flimsy evidence to end a marriage on.  I was also confused because up until p. 200 Kyung's parents were said to live in The Heights but after p. 200 suddenly the reference to where they lived became Marlboro.

Towards the end I had to re-scan the book because I felt like I had missed something.  On p. 256 Kyung said the older Reverend "did a good thing for me once".  I had to flip back to p. 47-48 and assume Kyung was referring to Jin's conversion.  On p. 252 Elinor suddenly pops up as a major character for whom Mae was going to work and rent an apartment from.  She had been at the funeral and it appears she was the decorator that was referred to several times earlier in the book.  


Discussion Questions

How does the opening quote relate to the novel?

When Mae was in Kyung's backyard and at the hospital, what did you suspect caused Mae to get beat up?  Did you believe Jin did it?

In Chapter 3 Kyung has lots of regrets and second thoughts about his parents.  Are they cultural or parental?  Did any resonate with you?

Pride is a recurring theme in this novel.  On p. 79 Kyung thinks if he'd been in the bank he'd have run instead of returning to the house.  He thinks his father was a better man than him to have returned.  At the end of Ch. 3 (p. 107) he realized pride won't fill the fridge or pay bills.  Where does pride come from?  How can it be tempered?

"Gillian says that rudeness is a weak person's idea of strength."  (p. 126)  Do you agree?

Kyung said worrying only got him a life he wanted to leave.  (p. 276)  Did he really want to leave?

Kyung's fictional-self is a radiologist in Los Angeles. (p. 278)  Who is your fictional-self?

Chapter 4 hits hard to the true nature of people and the masks they wear for others.  Do we all wear masks?  When are you most able to be your true self?  Do you know anyone who doesn't wear a mask?

Kyung felt if they accept financial help from his parents they'll be indebted to every request or invitation the parents make.  Would they? 

At the end of Ch. 6 Connie expresses sympathy for Kyung, "You poor son of a bitch."  For what exactly was Connie sympathetic?

Can you answer Kyung's question on p. 233 - If his mom never had the courage to leave Jin, why did she have the courage to leave after Kyung spoke the truth?

Kyung feels like after his mom dies their relationship is frozen in time and "what they were to each other is what they'll always be".  (p. 233)  Do you agree?  Is there a way to change it?

In Part 3 why did Gillian, Connie and Jin not try to draw Kyung into the funeral preparations?

Kyung "wants to remember Mae as she really was, flawed and fragile and the product of a life that never gave her a chance to do or be anything more."  (p. 239)  Is this a positive or negative memory?

Have you ever been to a funeral where people took flowers like souvenirs?  (p. 247)

At the Cape, Kyung said he didn't want to pretend anymore but at the funeral he feels the irony of pretending (p. 247).  What should he have done?

Reverend Sung says he has a hard time throwing out books. (p. 256)  Do you?

Were you surprised that when the Reverend learned the truth he wouldn't speak at the funeral?

Write an Epilogue:  Tell what happens to Jin and Kuyng.  Is Connie okay?  Does Gillian take Kyung back?  Does he change?

Theme Ideas

Serve Korean food (p. 139) like church people brought or lasagna like the neighbor brought (p. 131).

Serve tea from a sampler basket like Gertie made for Kyung. (p. 184)

Decorate with bright white gardenias like at Mae's funeral.

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