How far will you go for your loved ones? How far will you go to protect them, to show that you care for them and to save them? These questions became the focal points of Sonya Chung’s The Loved Ones.
The Loved Ones is a multi-generational saga that follows the story of two families. There’s Charles Lee, an African-American soldier who was once stationed in Korea where he met his now wife, Alice. Alice was previously a Peace Corps Volunteer before moving to Korea to teach. The two fell in love and had two children; Veda who is 9 years old and Benny who is six. With Alice finally deciding to return to work, Charles and Alice agreed to take in a baby-sitter as Alice believes that their children are still too young to tend for themselves. They hired Hannah Lee, a 13-year old daughter of Korean immigrants. Hannah’s parent, Soon-mi and Chong-ho, are conservative and traditional. They resent Hannah working with the Lees and they still struggle with adapting in America. The book then follows the characters as they try to move in their own worlds, watching each day unfold and trying to be civil to one another. An unusual bond was formed between Hannah and Charles. I myself, doesn’t know exactly how to best describe the bond that was formed between the two. It’s like an understanding between the two that was not formed not by words but by actions. It’s intimate but there’s no sexual tension. They were like these two people always keeping a watchful eye with each other. Then a tragedy hit Charles Lee’s family while they’re on vacation that caused a domino effect of reactions to the two families. A tragedy that allowed the the two families to reexamine themselves and their relationships with each other. The tragedy that takes its shape in the form of guilt that follows them like a shadow. Destiny worked its way for the two families life to intertwine and be bonded in unexpected ways that became too far difficult for the each to untangle. The story takes its readers from the two families’ life in 1980s Washington D.C., to the two families’ past in Korea in 1950s and to the places that each member of the two families have been after the tragedy up to the early 2000s. The succeeding chapters then followed each character as they struggle to move forward and start living their lives.
If love is truthful, it is beautiful. If it is beautiful, it is right. That is all there is to it.
– Sonya Chung, The Loved Ones
This book reminds me of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Both books tackles issues of loss and grief and being biracial in America. What makes The Loved Ones different though is it has two families coping up with the aftermath of a loss and it dug more deeper to the history of each of the families which allowed me to fully understand and empathize with each of the characters. The narration is also more melancholic in my opinion which really worked well with the building up of the intensity of the story.
What I like the most about this book is how it developed its characters. The author made each character unique which allowed them to stand out. The story moves between difference places, taking the readers as deep as Charles and Alice’s family history and to Hannah’s parent’s past. That may sound tad and boring but no, by doing that the story even became more complex. Complex in a good way as it allowed the characters to be even more fleshed out. I like how the secrets to each history was revealed and how I was like always looking for clues to tie the story. Traditions and beliefs became players that helped shape the characters and eventually the flow of the story.
For a book that is less than 300 pages long, some people may consider it short to be considered as a saga but for me, this book is a saga in itself. It was able to successfully cover a wide span of time in just a couple of pages. The number of pages that this book have is already enough to engage myself in. The book became very immersing in the parts wherein the author was putting in detail the history of the characters’ lineage. The transition from the past to the present and how the two families’ story interweave is also flawlessly done. To be honest, I had issues with the transition a couple of time when I started this book and I was a bit lost at some point but as soon as I was able to fully acquaint myself to how the author structured the story, I was so drawn in the story. The book gave me this haunting feeling but there’s that feeling of being satisfied at the same time. I don’t know if I’m making sense now but this book is really strange but it really is compelling. Adding to that, the book is also simply written which made me even more appreciate the story.
Only people who’ve never been broken think that others can be easily fixed.
– Sonya Chung, The Loved Ones
The book became a study of love and loss and its after effects. It also became partly an inquiry on culture and traditions and its complexities that affected the belief of the characters. I questioned a couple of decisions made by the characters and I was upset at some of their choices which haunted me for a couple of days. (I blame it to the book’s very powerful narrative.) After finishing this book, I felt conflicted with what was I suppose to feel towards it. But then I eventually understood, the answers to my questions and what-ifs always leads me back to what this book is all about; the loved ones. How far will you go for your loved ones? How far will you go protect them, to show that you care for them and to save them?
Read this book. 4 stars out of 5.
Note: My gratitude to Relegation Books for providing me a review copy in exchange for a honest and unbiased review. In no way was my opinion about the book influenced.
Author: Sonya Chung
Part of a Series: No
Release Year: October 2016
Publisher: Relegation Books
No. of Pages: 80 pages
About the Author
Sonya Chung is the author of the novels THE LOVED ONES (Relegation Books, 2016) and LONG FOR THIS WORLD (Scribner, 2010). She is a staff writer for the The Millions and founding editor of Bloom, and is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize nomination, the Charles Johnson Fiction Award, the Bronx Council on the Arts Writers’ Fellowship & Residency, and a MacDowell Colony Fellowship. Sonya’s stories, reviews, & essays have appeared in The Threepenny Review, Crab Orchard Review, Tin House, The Huffington Post, Sonora Review, The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, Short: An International Anthology, and BOMB Magazine, among others. Sonya has taught fiction writing at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop, NYU, the College of Mount St. Vincent, and Columbia University. Currently she lives in New York City and teaches at Skidmore College. (Goodreads)