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7.7

Nami Mun

Miles from Nowhere [Riverhead]

Books Reviews Nami Mun
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Nami Mun

Life Among The Have-Nots: Heralded first novel finds gold in grit

Contemporary American novels often feel like extended short stories; notes for bigger books. Nami Mun’s first novel initially appears to fall into this trap, but it eventually escapes. With a gift for momentum, Mun, who grew up in South Korea and Bronx, New York, weaves a narration both dense and floating.

The narrator, Joon, is a young, down-and-out Korean immigrant shifting through New York’s underbelly in the 1980s. As a runaway from an abusive family, she finds herself holding onto the lowest rungs of society, side-by-side with drug addicts, grifters and the homeless. Mun makes you care for these careworn souls, often by using unpredictable grammatical constructions. Describing one acquaintance, she narrates: “Blue Fly, with his sunny hair and pool-blue eyes, sold himself mostly.”

As characters drift in and out of Joon’s consciousness like reflections in the subway, she ultimately finds herself a job and a way out, and is redeemed by the sheer forcefulness of life.

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