“Shelter” by Jung Yun is a dark novel about a family in crisis. Kyung Cho is a young Korean-American professor of biology. At 36 he has all he thought he wanted: a wife, Gillian, a four-year- old son, Ethan, he adores – and a position at the university. He lives in a suburb outside Boston.
However, he and his wife are living far beyond their means, strapped by debts from student loans and vacations they cannot afford. He knows Gillian is right in insisting they sell their home and move some place cheaper. But Kyung’s parents live nearby in an even more upscale area, and he cannot fathom the look his father would give him if he ever admitted his financial problems. Basically, the story is of the complicated relationship that Kyung has with his wealthy parents with decades-old secrets and a tragic event that eventually forces truths to be revealed.
Kyung’s immigrant father, Jin, is a tenured professor of engineering and inventor. Brilliant, Jin created patents that eventually contributed millions to the university.
Kyung grew up having everything from expensive toys to private tutors, everything but loving parents. His father regularly beat his mother, Mae, when Kyung was a child. His mother would respond by hitting Kyung. He resented them both. But his culture instilled in him that he had to respect his parents. He and his family live close to them now because that is what is expected of a Korean child. But Kyung creates excuses to never see them.
Jin is a tenured professor at the same university as his son, well known and revered for all the brilliant research he has done. The income from his patents alone is more than Kyung makes. Kyung feels that the only reason he is kept on at the university is because of his father, which produces even more resentment.
The family dynamics come to a head when one afternoon Kyung’s mother, naked, beaten, and bloody, comes walking into their backyard. As the story unfolds, Kyung has no recourse but to take in his parents and Gillian thinks he should offer them support at this stressful time.
Living in such close proximity brings back all the old memories. Jin and his grandson bond immediately, with Jin showing all the kindness to Ethan that he never showed Kyung. Kyung is resentful and jealous. He wishes he had a better relationship with his own son but has no role model to follow, no loving father who showed him how a father and son can bond. Kyung has no idea how to behave with his own son.
This debut novel is a page-turning read that highlights essential truths about family life. In the end, the reader is hoping for redemption and kindness to conquer hate and mistrust.