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Reviews of Exhibit by R Kwon


A Novel

by R O. Kwon

Exhibit by R O. Kwon X
Exhibit by R O. Kwon
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  • Published:
    May 2024, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

From bestselling author R. O. Kwon, an exhilarating, blazing-hot novel about a woman caught between her desires and her life.

At a lavish party in the hills outside of San Francisco, Jin Han meets Lidija Jung and nothing will ever be the same for either woman. A brilliant young photographer, Jin is at a crossroads in her work, in her marriage to her college love Philip, and in who she is and who she wants to be. Lidija is an alluring, injured world-class ballerina on hiatus from her ballet company under mysterious circumstances. Drawn to each other by their intense artistic drives, the two women talk all night.

Cracked open, Jin finds herself telling Lidija about an old familial curse, breaking a lifelong promise. She's been told that if she doesn't keep the curse a secret, she risks losing everything; death and ruin could lie ahead. As Jin and Lidija become more entangled, they realize they share more than the ferocity of their ambition, and begin to explore hidden desires. Something is ignited in Jin: her art, her body, and her sense of self irrevocably changed. But can she avoid the specter of the curse? Vital, bold, powerful, and deeply moving, Exhibit asks: how brightly can you burn before you light your life on fire?

Adapted from Exhibit

I finished the iced tea.

"Do you want more?" she asked.


"Should we begin?"

"I, ah—"

"Will you stand up, Jin? Don't move again. Not until I say you can."

* * *

Lidija hit me with a belt, over my clothing, while I braced against the wall. She'd asked, the first time we'd spoken, about limits, pursuits. I'd replied as I could. She'd given me a bell, its handle tied to a strip of tulle ribbon. Lidija twined the fabric in my fingers. If I let it fall, she'd stop. I kept the bell in my hand; I clasped it.

Back home, I went to the full-length mirror in the hall. I had slight marks, a pale flush radiating in lace tights. Philip had gone out. No, I didn't mind marks, I'd told Lidija. I'd make sure Philip didn't spot me naked tonight. Mild welts, veiled in nylon. I traced lifted edges. Injured muscles, elated. It had fit so ill, this rigid, vexing form. In which I might, for once, belong.

"Can you tell me how you felt, after last time?" Lidija asked.


"But you're ...

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BookBrowse Review


After a stunningly successful photographic exhibition, Jin has been unable to take a single "good" photo in the months since, even as the deadline for her next show approaches. At the height of Jin's discontent, she meets a fellow Korean American at a party. The two form an almost instant connection, and Jin finds herself telling Lidija about her dissatisfaction with her work, her husband, and even her sex life. They agree to meet again with the excuse of Jin taking headshots of Lidija that she can use for publicity, and after a few such rendezvous they begin a sadomasochistic affair. The author mixes narrative formats throughout. She inserts the story of a vengeful kisaeng (a Korean courtesan) in between chapters, and elsewhere, Jin and Lidija compare the Korean legends they grew up with. Included are letters a younger Jin wrote to God, seeking help from the divine while denying its existence ("Dear made-up Lord, I live in pursuit of You. Put me to use…"). Start to finish, the text is sensuous, imbued with color and texture, sound, smells, and taste...continued

Full Review (672 words)

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

In a hypnotic, sensual stream of consciousness…Kwon explores an intimacy that grows into obsession, revealing insights into the nature of power, sexuality, and free will.

Electric Literature
Kwon's prose is unlike any other, sensuous and sumptuous and yet razor-sharp.

New York Times
A highly sensory experience, awash in petals and colors, smells and flavors, that adds to the literature on a proclivity much discussed and often misunderstood. It lingers like a mysterious, multihued bruise.

An exhilarating novel about being caught between the desires of the future and the specters of the past.

Poets & Writers
One of the most buzzed-about books of the year…fiery, sexual, and undeniably original.

Shelf Awareness
A searing study of art, desire, and bodily and intellectual freedom…Kwon's sentences are like grenades, carefully wrought and concentrated with meaning.

Time Magazine
A hypnotic queer love story full of lust and longing…a haunting romance about desire, obsession, and ambition that is sure to get your heart rate up.

R.O. Kwon extracts hidden, taboo desires with precision, and her hair-raising prose sizzles.


San Francisco Chronicle
Pulses with the queer desire of Korean women, past and present.

Kirkus Reviews
Kwon's novel is a muscular and intelligent examination of the layers of Jin's identity. A bold, tough novel that invites the viewer's gaze and stares defiantly back.

Publishers Weekly
Hypnotic and disquieting, this slow burn will stick in readers' minds.

Author Blurb Bryan Washington, bestselling author of Family Meal and Memorial

Exhibit is sensational – a novel that's both intimate and operatic, singular and world-encompassing. Kwon's prose is soulful and piercing, chronicling the many ways we lose and find ourselves, blending love and sex and fables between the infinite folds that encompass desire. Exhibit is entirely captivating, and Kwon is truly masterful; it's a book for the mind and the heart and the body, an actual tour de force.

Author Blurb C Pam Zhang, bestselling author of How Much of These Hills Is Gold and Land of Milk and Honey
A rare jewel of a book, at once forceful and unrepentant, delicate and shimmering. R. O. Kwon carves language into a wondrous, jagged thing, revealing facets of desire usually hidden. To read Exhibit is to feel time slow down.

Author Blurb Madeline Miller, New York Times bestselling author of Circe and The Song of Achilles
In prose at once sharp and lush, Kwon crafts a gripping tale of a woman wrestling with the past, while boldly making her own future. A haunting and powerful exploration of art, racism, feminism, and desire, this novel will stay with me a long time.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

En Puntas by Javier Pérez

View of the interior of the Teatre Municipal in Girona, Spain showing red seats and carpet, three levels of balconies, and ornate ceiling decorations During a pivotal scene in R.O. Kwon's novel Exhibit, a character mentions a short film he's viewed. In it, a ballerina performs atop a piano lid in customized pointe shoes; long kitchen knives have been attached to them, so she is literally dancing on points. This real-life film is the video-installation piece En Puntas ("on tips"), created by multimedia artist Javier Pérez.

Pérez was born in 1968 in Bilbao, Spain and currently lives in Barcelona. According to Wilde Gallery:

"His masterful works embody a distinctive blend of methods and materials, crafting a captivating visual language rich in potent metaphors and enigmatic symbolism. Pérez's art offers profound insights into the human condition and the ...

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Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

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