Everything Belongs to Us: A Novel

Yoojin Grace Wuertz
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.   Praise for Everything Belongs to Us“Engrossing. [Yoojin Grace] Wuertz is an important new voice in American fiction.”—Kirkus, starred review “[A] memorable debut . . . Wuertz crafts a story with delicious scenes and plot threads.”—Publishers Weekly “An absorbing debut destined for major lists and nominations.”—Booklist"In Everything Belongs to Us, Wuertz has given us a Middlemarch for modern South Korea. She’s woven the whole social tapestry, and made us care about every last thread.”—Susan Choi, author of My Education “I found myself engrossed in the difficult choices faced by Wuertz’s nuanced, engaging characters as they navigate college politics and romance in 1970s Seoul. I’m thrilled to have experienced their inner lives in these pages—to have celebrated their victories and commiserated in the pain of their mistakes—and would happily have stuck with them for hundreds more.”—Emily Barton, author of The Book of Esther “What a story! Everything belongs to this terrific debut: love, family, friendship, and politics. I especially loved the two strong-willed and passionate heroines. Their ideals, choices, and struggles make this an utterly rapturous literary page-turner.”—Samuel Park, author of This Burns My Heart   “Historic in scope yet eerily contemporary, Everything Belongs to Us is a stirring debut that immerses readers in a society where some quietly hope for change and others must demand it.  In Yoojin Grace Wuertz’s capable hands, characters come alive with desire for a different kind of life, and heartbreak is the price of longing.”—Jung Yun, author of Shelter

Reviews

Reviewed: 2019-05-12

Christine Hyung-Oak Lee 
says in the NYTimes ( https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/books/review/everything-belongs-to-us-yoojin-grace-wuertz.html )

"This is the story about Korea I’ve been waiting to read — a story not about the Korean War, but about its aftermath and emerging democracy, and it is a fine telling."

but:

"Happiness is secondary to this generation; it is a luxury, as is love. Wuertz tries to contain a sociological history of Korea by structuring it around the romantic entanglements of her characters. These love stories are the most conventional parts of this book — familiar terrain that helps to situate the reader. Nevertheless, I’d argue that the novel could have stood on its own without all the romance — Wuertz has some stunning chapters that focus on the various ways different women navigate the patriarchal strictures of Korean society."


Jessica: Set in South Korea in the 70's during cultural and political upheaval, Everything Belongs to Us follows three college students in a coming of age story about ambition, class, activism, and friendship. Namin lives in poverty, all the hopes of her family rest on her brilliance and she is their only hope for success and stability. Sunam is from a comfortable family but longs to be accepted by the elite Circle social club. Jisun is incredibly wealthy but longs to escape from her father's plans for her and find something to be passionate about.


There is so much to unpack here that feels incredibly relevant to current events in the US. But the book never comes across as a political novel.

 

 

 

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