Book: When We Fell Apart by Soon Wiley

Following a young American Korean man in Seoul in the aftermath of his girlfriend’s incomprehensible suicide, Wiley’s poignant, captivating novel is a powerful reflection on family, sense of belonging and the secrets we keep from those we love.

When the Seoul police inform Min that his girlfriend Yu-jin has taken her own life, he’s sure it can’t be true. She was successful, ambitious, happy, just on the cusp of graduating from university and claiming the future she’d always dreamed of.

Min, on the other hand, born to an American father and Korean mother, has never felt quite the same certainty as Yu-jin about his life’s path. After growing up in California, where he always felt ‘too Korean’ to fit in, he’s moved to Seoul, hoping that exploring his Korean heritage will help him find a sense of purpose. And when he meets Yu-jin, little does he know that their carefree relationship will set off a chain of events with tragic consequences for them both.

Devastated by Yu-jin’s death, Min throws himself into finding out why she could have secretly wanted to die. Or did she? With a controlling and powerful government official father, and a fraught friendship with her alluring and destructive roommate So-ra, Yu-jin’s life was much more complex than she chose to reveal to Min. And the more he learns about her, the more he begins to doubt he ever really knew her at all.

All begins to go off track when Yu-jin is matched by an algorithm with So-ra for a roommate with a 98% probability of success. As Yu-jin begins to discover and reinvent herself and as her attraction to her independent and strong-willed roommate grows, her father’s scrutiny increases. Crushed by familial and cultural judgments, Yu-jin dies of a suspected suicide early on and Min is determined to find out the truth behind this desperate act. Told in alternating chapters – Yu-jin’s and Min’s – the book questions how well any of us really know each other. The yearning for a more authentic self is shared by both, although Min’s chapters tend to pale compared to Yu-jin’s, who is the more interesting character. The glue that holds Min and Yu-jin together takes time to understand, as these two outsiders recognize something in each other.

In this gorgeous, poignant meditation on identity, love, and desire, Soon Wiley illuminates the liminal state of being biracial, of belonging but not, of desperately wanting the world to let you be as you are. 

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
ISBN: 9781398501737
Number of pages: 368

Available at Waterstones, WHSmith and Book Depository