BookBrowse Reviews Drifting House by Krys Lee

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Drifting House

by Krys Lee

Drifting House by Krys Lee X
Drifting House by Krys Lee
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2012, 224 pages
    Dec 2012, 224 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

Buy This Book

About this Book



A debut collection of short stories that describes the Korean immigrant experience

A shimmering, variegated collection - like an abalone shell whose tough exterior covers beauty accrued layer by layer - Krys Lee's debut is not for readers who expect immediate rewards in the form of lighthearted stories that feature immigrants learning a new culture. Instead, these nine masterful selections explore the brutal side of starting over in America and the emotional toll on families that remained in or returned to Korea after the country's division. Like the titular "Drifting House," home becomes an unmoored, shifting concept; characters find themselves caught between shores - past and present, tradition and modernity, and at times, shamanism and religion.

In these stories, incidents of self-harm take place in acts that range from cutting to suicide by drowning. A brother kills his younger sister in the belief that death is more merciful than starvation. An incestuous encounter occurs between a father and his teenaged daughter after her mother has been institutionalized for murdering a neighborhood boy. A salaried man falls into homelessness and does what he must in the name of self-defense. A half-Korean, half-American girl's life is on the fringes in post-war Seoul. And, in one of the most eloquent stories, a precocious stepson resolves to "never allow anything bad to happen to himself" and to "hurtle into the present" after realizing that his stepfather is plagued by memories.

If such pain seems unbearable, it must be appreciated in context - war and its aftermath looms in the psyche of Lee's characters, though war itself is not the main subject, and Lee is careful to avoid suggesting that tragic outcomes are inevitable for survivors, their children, and their communities. While many of the characters are not relieved of their burdens, they still emerge as complex figures whose circumstances reveal occasional grace. Amid darker scenes and frank sexuality, such instances deserve special mention.

In one of the standouts, "The Goose Father," a father stays behind in Seoul after his family has moved to the United States. Upon taking a boarder who believes in reincarnation, he is startled to hear "the world's full of mystery - it's our duty to accept it," a moment that allows him to view life in a more expansive way and to start being more honest about his desires. Lee handles the gradual transition from skepticism to reawakening with admirable ease and introduces an otherworldly character seamlessly.

In the story "At the Edge of the World," a blended family's attempt at normalcy is tempered by the main character's affection for a neighbor's daughter, an interlude as charming as it is forthright in highlighting their differences. In "A Small Sorrow," a wife finds her own form of erotic freedom and a new determination even though her husband is "incapable of change."

Other stories permit characters opportunities for respite amid personal anguish, but The Drifting House mainly conveys discomforting experiences. Lee reminds readers (with a welcome absence of nihilism) that hardship is worth paying attention to, not just for the empathy it draws forth, or for the strength found in characters who manage to come out on the other side, but for its ability to connect people across time and cultures. Especially recommended for fans of stories with a variety of younger narrators.

Reviewed by Karen Rigby

This review was originally published in February 2012, and has been updated for the December 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Seoul, South Korea

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Women & Power
    Women & Power
    by Mary Beard
    The treatise Women & Power: A Manifesto discusses a scene in Homer's Odyssey in which Odysseus&...
  • Book Jacket: Speak No Evil
    Speak No Evil
    by Uzodinma Iweala
    Young Nigerian American writer Uzodinma Iweala is fast becoming known as a powerful chronicler of ...
  • Book Jacket: Winter
    by Ali Smith
    "God was dead; to begin with." This first sentence of Winter perfectly sets up the dreamy journey ...
  • Book Jacket: A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    by Atia Abawi

    When you're a refugee, everyone has lost, at least for the time being... And the journey ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One N U G

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.