In the book Shelter, Jung Yun tells the life story of Kyung Cho, a Korean born now living in America with his wife and their 4-year old son. Though they had decent life in the past, now they are in financial trouble with credit card debts and mortgage for their house. His parents, Jin and Mae, stays a few miles from them in a completely different life, exclusive and luxurious. Kyung doesn’t want to seek help from his parents because of his years long toxic relationship with them. When he was young, Jin used to hit Mae for frequently and Mae hit Kyung for some reasons Kyung could not fathom. Because of the violent history, Kyung has been keeping a distance from his parents since he moved out for collage.
When Jin and Mae’s house was attacked and they were assaulted by the criminals, Kyung has to take them in can care for them. While staying under the same roof for the first time in many years, the childhood pain were resurrected and the emotional whirlpool of anger, resentment and guilt suffocates him. Kyung doesn’t want to have his unhealthy childhood affected on his fatherhood with his son. He wants to be the apple that falls very far from the tree and he fights for it. Then ill-fated events fall like dominoes and Kyung is on the verge of a breakdown.
From the beginning towards the end, a small blue flame was slow burning at some corner of my chest. Though the story was told in a simple narrative, the plot was compelling. An occasional eloquent proses could not be more apt to the thrilling storyline. I was drawn in promptly and I kept turning another page and trying to figure out things occurred to the characters or the happenstances resulted by their actions.
Yun highlights the entangled relationship between parents and a child with such brilliance. She shows a person can change if he or she is persistent regardless of the past events. It is understandable that you have reasons for your bad behaviours or wrongdoing towards other. But they can only be the reasons of your mistakes, not excuses. It was emotionally draining and captivating read. Quite suffocating in some chapters as it hits me quite closer to home. Every chapter is fittingly crafted and arresting to read with the array of unforgettable characters.
I love Kyung character despite his flaws. He continuously attempt to be a giving and loving husband and to provide a better childhood, the one he didn’t receive, for his son. However, the weight he’s been carrying on his shoulder and the emotional baggage he keep in his heart. It pains for me to see some reviews in Goodreads regard him as a coward and even use the term ‘grow a pair’. I get it. Some have it harder than him but that doesn’t make his suffering less either. He may look like a weak person and flaws with various issues but aren’t we all are? It’s not an excuse to be forgiven or a badge of honour to be proud of. We gotta have empathy. Everyone cannot be that strong. Some people need time and a kind nudge rather than toxic positivity enforcement.
I love the characters of Gillian (Kyung’s wife) and Connie (Gillian’s father). How they treat Kyung encouragingly with sympathy and kindness is truly beautiful. Both Jin and Mae are interesting and surprising with layers of characteristics, too. The emotional turmoil they gave to each other and also to their son was irrevocable yet these people emerged (or tried to) differently on their own term. There is a multi-layer of rotten truth decaying under the ostentatious facade of Cho family. Without taking anyone’s side, Yun gives us a poignant tale of classic conflict between parents and a child.