Nuclear Family

Counterpoint. Jun. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9781640094864. $26. F
DEBUT Set in the author’s home state of Hawai‘i, this debut novel takes place prior to the 2018 false alarm when a nuclear missile alert was issued throughout the state. Here, readers meet the Cho family, purveyors of a chain called Cho’s Delicatessen, which offers Korean-style plate lunches. The business was boosted after being featured on a program with Guy Fieri. The Cho’s daughter, Grace, loves smoking cannabis—some of her passages sound like “Harold & Kumar” with a Hawaiian food flair. Grace is finishing her final year of college and regularly helps her parents run the business. Their son Jacob, who’s teaching English in South Korea, is suddenly possessed by his grandfather’s ghost on a visit to the DMZ, the demilitarized area that acts as a buffer between North and South Korea, but he crosses that zone and gets shot in the process. The ghost wants to find family left behind in the north, but when news of the incident spreads, patronage of the family’s business dries up as loyal customers suspect the family of being spies with ties to North Korea.
VERDICT Han successfully depicts the love binding the Cho family and the struggles they face, and themes of unity, assimilation, and acceptance run deep, whether it be for the country of Korea, the people of Hawai‘i, or humankind more generally. Filled with campy humor, Han’s novel will be appreciated by readers looking for a light, fun, yet meaningful read.
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