FICTION

Almond

. HarperVia. May 2020. 272p. from Korean by Sandy Joosun Lee. ISBN 9780062961372. $25.99. LITERARY.
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Debut Award-winning South Korean screenwriter/director Sohn’s intimate and surprising debut novel features Yunjae, born with a condition that limits his ability to experience or even recognize emotion; in his brain, the almond-shaped organs governing feelings are smaller than normal. But this novel is not about disability, instead examining our capacity to connect. Yunjae’s mother works tirelessly to teach him how to manage in a world he can’t read and reaches out to her own estranged mother, who becomes a sharp-witted, doting grandma. When they are lost in a terrible Christmas eve shooting (it’s Yunjae’s 16th birthday), he soldiers on, helped by a sympathetic neighbor. At school, his imperturbability stymies the gangsterish Gon, who initially bullies him but then befriends him while inadvertently leading him to a dangerous edge. Will Gon and Yunjae’s secret crush, Dora, help ­Yunjae learn to feel?
VERDICT ­Impressively portraying Yunjae’s shrugged-shoulder calm and efforts to understand his world, Sohn offers a heartening study of human emotion.

 

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