Drifting House is a collection of nine short stories by a writer who was born in Seoul, South Korea, was raised in California and Washington, studied in the United States and Korea, and now (all of this according to the jacket flap copy) lives in Seoul.
Because I was stationed in Korea for 16 months after the war (but have never been back), I probably bring a special interest to these stories, which are set in Korea and in the US. The characters are all Korean with a few minor exceptions. One exception is the black GI father of a girl, a father she never knows because he is shipped to Vietnam and dies in that war. In that story, "Beautiful Women," we watch a young girl grow into a young woman. It begins: "Under her mother's skirt, there is the shimmer of pink gills. Mina strokes the down of her mother's leg past the puckered marks of slugs on her mother's thighs, up to the dark starfish she spies under a strip of translucent fabric. But these mysteries become ordinary, merely thighs and fatty flash, when her mother slaps her hand."
I found all of the stories interesting for their reports from another world—life in Koreatown, life in Seoul during the 1990s financial crisis, life in North Korea. One of the questions such a collection raises is: How representative are these characters? Or are their stories all individual, unique?
Lee's characters—their thoughts, perceptions, actions—are all unique, in fact. Yet, these people in their confusion, anger, loss are also human. The woman who enters into "A Temporary Marriage" with an older Korean man as a way to reach America and find her daughter . . . what she does and why she does it is comprehensible and moving. The daughter in "The Believer" who tries to console her inconsolable father is absolutely convincing.
My only suggestion: Read only one of these stories a day. They are almost too strong to take at a sitting.