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Book Review: Patti Kim — A cab called Reliable

A Cab Called ReliablePatti Kim: A cab called Reliable
St Martins Press, New York, 1997

“A novel about growing up in America” reads the bland strapline to this book’s title. A novel about ironies, about mistaken stereotypes, about the travails of multicultural American and the Korean diaspora, would be more accurate, if less catchy.

Presumably semi- if not wholly autobiographical, this is the first-person account of a young Korean girl struggling to grow up in America. Her father had left Busan to escape the oppressive nightmare of family life there, in so doing forcing her to leave behind her only friend. But the American dream does not turn out to be much of an improvement. She comes home one day to find her mother and brother high-tailing it (in the titular cab) out of the depressed housing estate where they live, never to be seen again. Not much loss, you might think, as the mother had always favoured the son over her, and the narrator admits to having spent much of her childhood trying to make her brother’s life a misery in order to get her own back. She is full of a schizophrenic rage which is only partially explicable. Her only American friend is a disabled Portguese boy whom she alternately taunts and prick-teases. Her father, at heart well-meaning but a little bit of a no-hoper and also slightly abusive of her, struggles to provide for a future for her. In return she despises his feeble attempts at speaking English, and can only find escape from her daily drudgery through writing. An altogether grim portrait of family life in the minority underclass in America. And the irony is, she reads in an encyclopaedia at school:

Korea [is] known for strong family ties. Families … [remain] loyal to each other. The family [is] more important than the individual or the nation. Grandparents, parents, sons, unmarried daughts, the sons’ wives and their children all [live] happily together.

So much for stereotypes.

A brief but thought-provoking book.

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