cover image The Apology

The Apology

Jimin Han. Little, Brown, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-316-36708-0

Han (A Small Revolution) delivers an uneven ghost story involving a Korean matriarch’s interventions before and after her death. During the Korean War, widow Jeonga Cha’s 15-year-old son, Gwangmu, impregnates his teacher’s 16-year-old sister, Hayun. Jeonga, worried the news would bring scandal to her family, arranges for Hayun and the baby to settle in the U.S. She continues raising Gwangmu in Seoul until he leaves for school in Chicago, then reconnects with Hayun. In the present, when Jeonga is 105, she discovers Gwangmu and Hayun’s granddaughter Ellery is about to marry Jordan, a great-grandson of Jeonga’s long-estranged older sister Seona. (Neither Ellery nor Jordan knows they’re related, and Jeonga doesn’t know whether Seona is still alive.) Jeonga hastens from Seoul to the U.S., to visit Hayun and Ellery in San Francisco and Jordan in Ohio, hoping to stop the wedding. Then, while in Chicago to visit another relative, she is struck by a bus and killed. Awaking in the afterlife, Jeonga is desperate for a “second chance,” and attempts to reconcile with various family members. The novel sags from a few too many side plots, but the feisty and misanthropic Jeonga is a captivating narrator (“I hated people. They had always been terrible”; “You think old ladies can’t run? We certainly can”). Though bloated, this tragicomedy has its charms. Agent: Cynthia Manson, Cynthia Manson Literary Agency. (Aug.)