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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Step from Heaven by An Na

What a story-teller... An Na creates this book via vivid memories of the main character, Young Zu. The vignettes begin at age four and explore the most poignant of her memories until late adolescence. It’s a fascinating portrait of the life of a child-immigrant and her Korean family.

Young Zu was deeply attached to her grandmother in Korea, but had to face separation when her parents brought her to America to obtain a better life for her. Her life in America unfolds with her strongest recollections as an immigrant with language barriers, a child of immigrant parents who desire the best for her, and an adolescent in a troubled family.

The book is best for older tweens as the abuse by her alcoholic father is a significant part of the narrative. The abuse was an integral part of the story, but not the focus. I think it was handled well for an older crowd. It is also, of course, not an uncommon occurrence amongst immigrant families caught between two cultures.

Young Zu’s father begins by drinking too much and occasionally hitting her mother, eventually he progresses to kicking her brother in the stomach, and finally attacks Young Zu. When her mom interferes, he starts to beat her, and Young Zu makes the right choice and calls the police, knowing she will incur the anger of both parents. Indeed, her mother initially blames Young Zu when the father is picked up from jail by another Asian woman and does not return home.

The hopes that Young Zu’s family had for their dreams in America, a country envisioned by Young Zu to be heaven, and then a step from heaven, according to her parents’ descriptions, were strained by the hard work and lack of money. Young Zu’s mother found her solace in church and prayer while the father hated church and found solace in drinking.

In the end, Young Zu’s mother took responsibility for herself. She chose not to return to Korea with Young Zu’s father when he gave her the chance. Instead, she removed her 2 children from his abuse and together, these three managed to purchase a home of their own. Hope and redemption are good endings.



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