Leonard Chang’s first novel is proof that giving away key elements of the plot in advance need not ruin the enjoyment of a work of fiction. The book starts at the end, with the hero in hospital, blinded and incapacitated. You are told how the story ends. You are even told, in broad outline, how our subject gets there. But you feel compelled by the language to embark upon the journey, even before you get seized by the scenario of the plot.
A young Korean-American comes back to the place of his childhood – Queens, in New York City – because he has nothing left for him anywhere else. It’s a district where the ethnic balance is gradually shifting from Korean American to African American. Knowing about the race riots in San Francisco in 1992, and knowing how the novel ends, you know there’s going to be trouble. Every second in the Korean-run Fruit ‘n’ Food store where our hero works is laden with tension. Which customer is going to sneak a beer into his jacket? Which one is going to pull the gun? Or is the fear imaginary? More importantly, which is the most prejudiced, the most racist? The white? The black? The Gyopo? The native Korean?
This book is filled with tension, despite the fact that you know how it ends. There is, though, a big surprise in how it gets there.
Well worth searching out.