Miles From Nowhere
Publish date: 2009-01-01
Review date: February 26, 2009
In raw and beautiful prose, debut novelist Mun delivers the story of a young woman who is at once tough and vulnerable, world-weary and naive, faced with insurmountable odds and yet fiercely determined to survive. In the process, Mun creates one of the most indelible characters in recent fiction.
Miles from Nowhere is Nami Muns debut novel. A work of urban fiction set in the 1980s. Miles from Nowhere is the story of a young Korean girl who wanders into the underground playground of New York's misguided, lost, and broken children.
As I read this book I found myself in streets and buildings reminiscent of Hubert Selby's, Last Exit to Brooklyn. I'm not sure if this comparison is due to the familiar way in which both authors show the character of the city, which could be any city but, incidentally, is New York in both accounts; or if it is due to the way in which each author depicts the voice of their characters. Either way, I felt I had visited Mun's city through Selby's words once before.
Mun's Joon is a girl who chooses street life over life with her mentally unstable mother and alcoholic, homesick father. Joon appears to watch her parents struggle with themselves and each other from the shadows of their home. She doesn't seem to really mind that she's not the focus or even in the periphery of her parents lives, or that she is actually more of an assistant in her mother's struggle to keep her father from other women and alcohol. Aware of her inability to affect change and tired of watching the circular life of her parents, she decides to walk away.
Once in the embrace of her new \"concrete mother\", Joon finds herself being led down many dark paths. She encounters endless characters that have chosen a similar fate filled with endless turmoil and misfortune. Joon remains quiet throughout her own maturation. She seems to maintain a child-like demeanor that keeps her safe from the overwhelming cynicism that threatens to take hold of her and her peers, consume them and condemn them to a life full of grit, violence and self destruction.
I patiently followed Joon along her path, in and out of buildings, relationships and incidents. Though this story has been told before, Mun tells it in a way that sets her apart. She allows Joon to maintain a level of innocence that she carries with her as she drifts along, and loosely navigates the muddy waters of the life she's chosen. Mun's words took me to places that quickened my heart much in the same way a mother's heart quickens while she watches her toddling babe navigate a flight of rigid stairs. I found myself sighing in relief as Joon continuously succeeded in her navigation.