Everything Asian

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You’re twelve years old.  A month has passed since your Korean Air flight landed in lovely Newark Airport.  Your sixteen-year-old sister is miserable.  Your mother isn’t exactly happy, either.  You just met your father for the first time, and although he’s nice enough, he might be, well – how can you put this delicately – a loser.

You can’t speak English, but that doesn’t stop you from working at East Meets West, your father’s gift shop in a strip mall, where there are not only customers to wait on but neighboring stores to visit.  Everything is new.  Nothing is the same.

Welcome to the wonderful world of David Kim.

Everything Asian weaves together two compelling stories: a dramedy of the Kim family, reunited for the first time in America, and of Peddlers Town, a depressed, second-class mall where the Kims have their store.  Told in alternating chapters, my first novel offers a distinctive slant on the immigrant story.

Set in early-1980’s suburban New Jersey, Everything Asian is narrated by David Kim, who details the family’s first year in the U.S. together with equal amounts of humor and pathos.  They encounter competition in the mall; they literally have to fight fire; they attempt to befriend Americans.  They celebrate a birthday at a bowling alley and cook a turkey on Thanksgiving.  Through it all, the Kims try to understand what it means to be a family in their new country.

While David’s observations take center stage, they alternate with chapters told from another perspective, including the other members of the Kim family and other merchants in the mall.  These multiple points of view flesh out the picture of life at Peddlers Town as well as show the Kims through outsider’s eyes, offering a broadened understanding of the family.

Excerpts

Everything Asian
In Sook Kim
Mr. Hong
Ted McManus

Manuscript to Book

How a stack of pages becomes a published novel

28 thoughts on “Everything Asian

  1. Pingback: Angry Asian Man: Sung J. Woo’s ‘Everything Asian’ | Pop + Politics

  2. You should be VERY PROUD of this outstanding novel. I picked it up today and was unable to put it down. It was everything a memorable novel should be: funny, endearing, witty, touching, human….You hit every possible emotion that one can feel right on the head. I will never be able to forget your characters and their stories. Thank you so much for this masterpiece! (P.S. I hope that you’re considering a sequel–I want to know what happened to David, Sue, and even Mindy the giraffe.)

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Nikki. I’m working on a second book, and though it’s not a sequel, maybe it will be, in a way. It’s a brother-sister story, but they’re in their late thirties/early forties, and their lives are a mess. It’s a good place to start!

  3. Just finished your book — what an amazing novel! I found myself laughing, cringing, stammering, worrying and enjoying life, right beside David. It was fun for me to be a pre-teen for a day… Many thoughts in Asian cultures are never articulated, and I especially appreciated your gentle touch in helping us get to know the characters. I saw (at least) one family member in each character, which added to my immense enjoyment. Thanks, again, for your lovely gift!

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Julie — it’s really wonderful to hear that readers like you enjoyed it. You’re very right — Asian culture has primarily been about the unsaid. I’m trying to change that, and will continue to do so with book #2!

  4. Mr. Woo,

    도서관 (한국 용산 미 8군 )에서 우연히 이 책을 보고, 읽기 시작했는데, 너무 재미있었어요. David의 순진한 느낌과 생각들에 많은 공감이 갔어요,
    73-77년도에 New York에 살면서, Kim’s 가족같은 사람들을 본 일이 있어서 더욱 실감이 났을것 같아요.

    재미있게, 섬세하게, 또 이민생활에 힘들게 적응하는 한 가족의 삷을 너무 real하게 잘 표현해
    주셨어요. 다음책이 빨리 나오기 기대하겠어요.

    계속 한국 또는 Asian을 미국에 잘 소개시켜 주시기 바람니다.

    Linda

    • 안녕하세요 Linda,

      감사합니다! 다음책을 지금 쓰고 있어요 — 형제 자매 이야기어요. 아마 내년어 끝내요 (나의 희망!)…

      Sung

  5. I just found out about your book Everything Asian from an ad at my local bookstore today. I was really shocked as to how similar David’s family background is to mine. I moved to New York when I was 12 without knowing English or seen my father for 6 years. Other than the fact that I don’t have a sibling to share my thoughts, everything else seems to be completely the same. I’m really excited to read this and I really appreciate you writing something which will hopefully be very close to my heart Can’t wait to start reading!
    Wish you all the best!

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Everything Asian’. Such great insight on the Korean-American experience! I thought the portrayal of each character in first-person was captured beautifully. As I read, I could see these 3-D characters come to life within my own journey as a Korean-American, and just anyone who has to deal with the inevitable changes in their lives, whether the age, race or sex. I have one question. All the characters seem discontent with their lives. Was this intentional or did this come about as each character was developed?

    • Dear Anna,

      Thanks so much for your kind words! The reason why all the characters seem unhappy with their lives is because, well, that’s the way to get a story going. If everyone was content, then there probably would be a lack of conflict, and without conflict, there wouldn’t be much of a story. Check out this great essay by Aaron Gwyn: http://www.glimmertrain.com/b27gwyn.html. Trouble is our business!

      – Sung

  7. I just finished your book and its really good ! The part that made me sad the most was when I found out that the dad was cheating. He didn’t seem like the type :( But I knew what the mom was going through and it hurts, but i would never be as patient as she was. Your a very talented author and you are my favorite author now. Hope to read more of your work :)

    • Thanks, Jeremiah — I’m so glad you liked the book. I’m currently working on book #2 — it’s a very different experience than the first one, which is both good and bad!

    • Dear Ishan,

      I’m glad my novel was a good read for you. Is there a message behind the book? It’s a family story, an immigrant story, a story of adolescence. What I hoped to accomplish was to write a book about these characters and their major struggles and minor triumphs. I didn’t have any grand plans in mind, but whatever you glean from it is true and right. Because in the end, the reader is the one who brings his or her own meaning to what I wrote.

      – Sung

  8. Our local newspaper had an article about your use of a notebook computer and mentioned your book. I became interested since I am usually drawn to understand other cultures, and I had a feeling that it would be a rich family experience similar to Dave Eggers first book or John Grogan’s second. I waited anxiously for many months for the paperback but then decided to download the Kindle version to my iPod so I could read it anytime anywhere (my first novel on my iPod). I just finished the book on the bus home tonight, and it was difficult to hold back the tears. David’s life was my life. Instead of enjoying someone else’s family, I had to relive mine, most of which I have suppressed over the last 60 years. I was born and raised in New England with no exposure to Asian culture, but David’s story was in so many ways my family and my life. Those were very much my parents from my perspective at that time even though I grew up with both parents, I still had a similar relationship with my father; I had an older sister much like David’s, but my Mindy didn’t move away, just passed me a note one day that she was engaged to a Senior. Fortunately I became a very appreciative son and came to live a life so different from the one to which I was exposed, but I am saddened for the many David’s out there. While I treasured some of the transformative experiences of several of the characters in your book, I think I grieved for David and some hidden fears of what my life could have continued to be. On the iPod I had no awareness of when the book would end and then tonight when I discovered I was at the end, and left with David’s observation on his life….
    I know the human condition has many universal characteristics, but I wasn’t expecting to find my early life again. I am very curious as to how I will feel after some time has passed, and I will now be anxious to see if your next book captures the next part of my life.
    Best regards, Ken

    • Dear Ken,

      Is it coincidence that your comment was the 100th on the site? I’m just floored by your reaction for my book. What I consider to be the highest honor in the writer-reader experience is emotional connectivity, and I’m so heartened to see that you felt so strongly with so many parts of my novel, especially David. Thank you, Ken, for reading Everything Asian, and thank you for sharing your story here.

      – Sung

  9. Mr. Woo,
    Wow! What a great story, told through so many perspectives! I loved reading Everything Asian and have such an appreciation now for families who leave everything behind to start a new life. I love Asian culture and find such value in the hard work ethic and power of family. Even though David’s family was messy, they stuck together, through fire, theft, affairs, sickness, and bits of happiness along the way.
    I am a teacher and would have watched out for a boy like David. Knowing that he felt so awkward and left out was painful. I guess I would want to take care of him like Stacy. I am currently working on a unit of study for a graduate class. This unit of study could be used in a classroom in grades 6-12. My question for you is did you write Everything Asian for a specific audience? Do you see your work as adult reading or adolescent reading? Every reader is different, and while David is twelve in the book, do you see this as a book for younger readers? I would love to know your take on this. There are elements of this powerful story that may be suited for an older audience, and I’d like to know what you think. Thank you so much for your time and for creating such a unique book. I loved it!

    Sincerely,
    Jessi

    • Dear Jessi,

      First of all — thank you so much for writing. It never ceases to amaze me that there are people reading my book, let alone taking time out to write to me about it. Your question about the audience is indeed an interesting one. I never thought for a moment that I was writing a novel that would be shelved in the young adults section, but that’s happened quite a bit. Last year, the APALA (Asian Pacific American Librarians Association) bestowed my novel the literature award in the young adults category, so who am I to argue? The market will do what it does, and let me just say I’m thankful there’s a market at all!

      Even though I did not set out to write a YA work, I can see why there is affinity in that sector. The narrator is a young boy, and since half the novel is written in the first person, it’s a pretty natural fit. If I were to use the MPAA rating system, I’d place my book somewhere between PG and PG-13. Nothing too risque there, at least by today’s standards.

      Again, thank you, Jessi, for writing. It means a lot to me that there’s an audience for my book. I can’t believe it’s already been two years since it came out. Time to get back to work!

      – Sung

  10. I just finished Everything Asian and really enjoyed it. I just had one very minor question: When the two women have lunch, Mrs. Hong mistakenly orders tartar steak, only understanding the word “steak.” The chapter ends there, but the impression is that this would have been a bad mistake.
    I thought that this was a common Korean dish. It is usually on Korean menus called something like U-kay. And they are surprised if we order it, since they think only the Koreans will want it.
    Actually, I have made tartar steak for years, but improved it after eating it in Korean restaurants by adding sesame oil.

    • Dear Sally,

      You know your Korean food! Your pronunciation isn’t far off, either — “yook-hae” is what it is. And yes, you’re right — perhaps the reaction from Mrs. Kim should’ve been something along the lines of, “What is this? Did you order yook-hae?” Even though it is part of Korean cuisine, I think the fish version is more popular (“sang-sun-hae”), much like sushi and sashimi. And one thing for sure — if anybody Korean was gonna eat raw beef, there better be a tub of “go-choo-jang” to go along with it. And you know, on a personal level, I’m just not a fan of eating raw beef in any cuisine, so that probably also influenced the ending of that chapter.

      Thanks so much for enjoying the book! It’s already been two years since it came out, so it heartens me to hear that there are still readers out there for my little first novel.

      – Sung

  11. I just finished reading Everything Asian. Great book! I was engaged in the book the entire time. There seemed to be no dry moments. I had to read the book for a class I am currently taking. Usually I don’t care too much about the book selections. This book was different. I really enjoyed it and was able to learn some things about a culture I know nothing about. Definitely a book I would recommend to others.

  12. 안녕하세요,
    저는 편입생으로 이번학기에 미국에 처음들어왔는데요.
    학교에서 ESL수업을 듣는 데 이번에 새롭게 이 책을 읽고 공부를 한다고 해서 주문을 하고 기다리고 있어요.
    기대가 되네요. ^-^

    영어를 아직 잘 못해서 영어로 comment를 못 쓰지만 읽고 나서, 열심히 공부해서 또 comment 남길께요~

    Sujin Song

    • Dear Sujin Song,

      Welcome to America! And thank you for your comment in Korean. In no time at all, you’ll be leaving them in English, so don’t worry.

      Enjoy my book, and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future!

      – Sung

  13. Hello Mr. Woo,

    I just completed your novel, and it is certainly no exception to those post-book feelings of loss and immense bliss and gratitude. Because of school, I haven’t been able to read for pleasure in several weeks, so when I visited B&N recently, I wanted to give myself a surprise. I picked the first book I noticed on the shelf–Everything Asian, of course–and read it over two days. I’m so glad I did. Thank you for bringing me some peace and joy through your story! (Though I don’t think those words do it justice.) I felt deeply connected to David and his family, recognizing many elements of his life in my own or my parents’. I think I forget too often to remember that things can indeed be worse, and that life’s puzzle, as broken as it seems, can come together in little ways.

    I do not plan on attaining a degree in writing (maybe a certificate), but I am very passionate about writing, and it’s something that I have no ability to abandon just because of limited time in college. Do you have any advice for an aspiring writer?

    Regards,
    Divya

    • Dear Divya,

      Thank you for not only reading my book, but for liking it enough to compose a letter to me. Writing, as you probably already know, is a solitary job. So to have this kind of feedback really makes my day.

      It hasn’t been an easy couple of months for me, because I’ve been rewriting my second novel. I knew when I gave it to my readers that it wasn’t my best effort. I knew it would take time and effort to raise its quality. Knowing this makes it bearable on an intellectual level, but not so on an emotional level. To wade through all of my mistakes, to right what is wrong, to chop off chapters and build new ones — it’s awful. And yet it must be done, and the only person who can do this is me. So I’ve been struggling. I’ve been unhappy. And I’ve often questioned this entire enterprise of fiction. Why am I doing this? What does it all mean? Does it really matter?

      After reading your letter, I’m heartened to say yes. It does matter. It matters because there are readers like you. Your letter gives me hope and energy to keep going, to believe in my work. I’ve printed it out so I can read it whenever the doubts creep in (which, I can pretty much guarantee you, will be tomorrow morning when I go back to rewriting chapter 19).

      I can see you are already a wonderful writer — keep it up! My advice to young writers is no different than old writers: read. Right now, I’m reading Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s Ms. Hempel Chronicles, and I’d highly recommend you check it out. She’s so good, the character so complex, so real. Read Stewart O’Nan — Emily, Alone is a miracle. How is it that a middle-aged man can inhabit the mind of an eighty-year-old woman? When you read great writers, you’ll want to write greatly. I’m still learning, just like you.

      – Sung

  14. Mr. Woo,

    I wish you the best as you write/rewrite! I may not be able to empathize too well, having only accomplished NaNoWriMo (once), but I can sort of imagine how terrible it can be to do what you’re doing.

    Thank you so much for reaching out to your readers this way. It changes the experience of reading when you realize that the author is out there, somewhere, human–I suppose in the process of reading a book, one can barely imagine an author as a person rather than a sort of abstract entity. I think it also helps us appreciate just how much of one’s life can be poured into a piece of writing and that books are like living things.

    I look forward to checking out those books! As well as yours, when it is released.

    Regards,
    Divya

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