In Everything Belongs to Us, two young women of vastly different means each struggle to find her own way during the darkest hours of South Korea’s “economic miracle” in a striking debut novel for readers of Anthony Marra and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie.
Seoul, 1978. At South Korea’s top university, the nation’s best and brightest compete to join the professional elite of an authoritarian regime. Success could lead to a life of rarefied privilege and wealth; failure means being left irrevocably behind. For childhood friends Jisun and Namin, the stakes couldn’t be more different. Jisun, the daughter of a powerful business mogul, grew up on a mountainside estate with lush gardens and a dedicated chauffeur. Namin’s parents run a tented food cart from dawn to curfew; her sister works in a shoe factory. Now Jisun wants as little to do with her father’s world as possible, abandoning her schoolwork in favor of the underground activist movement, while Namin studies tirelessly in the service of one goal: to launch herself and her family out of poverty. But everything changes when Jisun and Namin meet an ambitious, charming student named Sunam, whose need to please his family has led him to a prestigious club: the Circle. Under the influence of his mentor, Juno, a manipulative social climber, Sunam becomes entangled with both women, as they all make choices that will change their lives forever.In this sweeping yet intimate debut, Yoojin Grace Wuertz details four intertwining lives that are rife with turmoil and desire, private anxieties and public betrayals, dashed hopes and broken dreams—while a nation moves toward prosperity at any cost. (via Goodreads)
I received an eARC from the publisher, Penguin Random House, and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I fell in love with this book when I first saw the cover of Everything Belongs to Us. Seriously, I love the cover of this book. In the end, I liked this book, but not as much as I think I could have.
I enjoyed seeing the vast differences between Namin and Jisun, and the way they lived their lives in the same city. They were both so absolutely dedicated to what they thought was important, which for Namin was her education, and for Jisun was the rebellion. Both of these women were so different, and yet so similar.
However, the story was advertised as being told by Namin and Jisun, and we honestly saw most of this story through Sunam’s eyes. I couldn’t figure out what Sunam, as a person, wanted until he wanted to have sex with Namin, which really kept me from connecting with him.
South Korean culture is not something I know really anything about, and this period in history is one that I hadn’t learned about. As a result, I had to do a little bit of googling mid-book to really understand what was going on, which took me out of the story. I also had to step out of Everything Belongs to Us several times for mental health reasons.
The ending also felt really unfinished to me. What happened with Namin’s family? What happened with Jisun’s? There were a lot of unanswered questions left in my mind as I read the last page, which left me a little disappointed.
Everything Belongs to Us was a hard book for me to read, but there were some really great things about it. For that reason, I gave it three stars. It’d be closer to a 3.5 if I did half stars. I think this could be a great novel for someone else, though. You can pick up a copy through Amazon, Indiebound or your other favorite bookseller!
Yoojin Grace Wuertz was born in Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States at age six. She holds a BA in English from Yale University and an MFA in fiction from New York University. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and son.
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