Everything Belongs to Us

Less a debut and more an arrival, this arresting first novel from Yoojin Grace Wuertz brings to life a South Korea poised on the brink of transformation and the young people caught up in its turbulence.

Childhood friends Namin and Jisun have always managed to ignore their differences, or at least pretended to. As students at Seoul National University in the fading days of the 1970s, though, their friendship may finally fail to survive their divergent paths. Jisun lives in a mansion and stands to inherit her father's wildly lucrative shipping business, but she rebels against her family's prestigious legacy by acting as a translator for American missionaries who secretly encourage factory workers to unionize.

Namin, her parents and her elder sister, Kyungmin, share a three-room house with no hot water or indoor plumbing in one of Seoul's poorest neighborhoods. Kyungmin works long hours in a factory, and their parents operate a dilapidated food cart to pay for Namin's education in hopes she will raise the family from poverty. All Namin wants is a gateway to the success she needs to care for her mentally handicapped brother, who lives with her grandparents. Though a mutual outsider status at the private girls' school Jisun and Namin both attended in childhood led to the pair bonding, their growing impatience with each other's differing views of the future damages their relationship.

Inspired by stories of her parents' college days in South Korea, Wuertz evokes a time of change in a country with which most Westerners aren't very familiar. Powerful and absorbing, Everything Belongs to Us introduces a new and compelling voice. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

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