Excerpt from Everything Asian by Sung J. Woo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Everything Asian

A Novel

by Sung J. Woo

Everything Asian
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2009, 336 pages
    Jul 2010, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Beth Hemke Shapiro

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Print Excerpt

I pointed to the dish that was still sitting on the counter.  “That was in the bathroom,” I told him.  “Noona was in the bathroom with that.”

He noticed the pills I’d arranged.  “You made a clock out of it?” he asked.

“It’s a cake.  It’s my birthday.”

“Happy buss-day.”

“Do you know the song?”

“I forgot it was your birthday,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“How old are you now?”


“I know the song,” Father said. “Happy buss-day to you,” he sang, running his fingers through my hair, “happy buss-day to you.  Happy…”  His voice cracked.  I continued singing.  “…birthday dear Da-vid, happy birthday to me.”

He quickly wiped his eyes with his sleeve and cleared his throat.  “What can I buy you?” he asked.

I wanted to take my time to compose a thorough list, but looking at Father’s desperate face, I had to offer him something.  “A frisbee,” I said, telling him the first thing that came to mind and regretting it immediately.

“Wait here,” Father said.  He returned moments later with a white round disc approximately the size of a coaster.  In the center was the familiar McDonald’s golden arches.  “I’ll get you a real one tomorrow,” he said, handing it over.  “Happy buss-day.”

So tomorrow I’d have two frisbees that I didn’t want instead of one.


We never went out to eat anywhere, so when Father told us we were going out, I knew something big was up.  I was hoping for Friendly’s, but we headed toward a Korean restaurant managed by one of Father’s friends, Mr. Lim.  This didn’t make any sense to me.  Weren’t you supposed to go out to eat food you couldn’t get at home?

“Be quiet,” Mother said.  “This isn’t about you.”

When we returned from busting our bellies with oxtail soup and pepper-laced rice cake, a piano had joined our living room.  It stood upright and had a splotchy look to it, maybe because its two front legs were varnished a darker brown than the rest.  Noona went to it like a person possessed, lifting the creaky keyboard cover and tracing the nicked rectangles of the ebony with her delicate fingers.  The ivory keys were the color of Mr. Lim’s teeth, but Noona didn’t seem to mind.  She sat down and played a couple of riffs.

“It sounds wonderful,” she said.

Standing between Father and Mother, their hands resting on my shoulder, on my head, I watched my broken sister give love to her piano.  I didn’t know it then, but she was playing Beethoven’s Für Elise, a tune she could play with perfect execution from memory alone.

That evening, I listened to Father and Mother arguing.  Apparently there was some confusion about where Father got the money for the piano.  Mother thought he had it saved up, because that’s what he told her.  Actually, he borrowed the hefty sum from Mr. Lim.

“That’s why we went there for dinner, to thank him,” Father said.

“You son of a bitch,” Mother said.  “You lied to me.”

“You saw how much she needed it,” he said.  “What’re you complaining about?”

“Don’t turn this around.  You’re always turning everything around.”

“Come on.  You can’t fault me for this.  Not this.”

My parents’ voices and Noona’s piano were intermingling, becoming oddly sing-song.  It wasn’t beautiful and it wasn’t ugly.  It just sounded like my family.

Excerpted from Everything Asian by Sung J. Woo. Copyright © 2006 by Sung J. Woo. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, a division of Macmillan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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