cover image The Evening Hero

The Evening Hero

Marie Myung-Ok Lee. Simon & Schuster, $28.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4767-3507-8

Lee (Somebody’s Daughter) returns with an ambitious story charting the travails of an elderly immigrant doctor in Minnesota after the hospital he works at closes down. Thirsty for a new purpose to life, Yungman Kwak takes a job with his son’s employer, SANUS, a healthcare company with several retail outlets in the Mall of America. Yungman isn’t much of a match for SANUS’s startup jargon (“medical professionals are divided into service providers—the DRones—and the MDieties,” his son, Einstein, explains about their boss’s philosophy, which also involves classifying Einstein as a “Doctorpreneur”). Eventually, Yungman enlists in Doctors Without Borders, an endeavor that brings him back to what is now North Korea, where he was born in 1940. Peppered throughout are stories from Yungman’s early life there: his experiences of poverty, war, striving for education, and courtship of his wife, who was raised in an elite circle within his village. Sometimes the prose is a bit awkward (a pie has a “seductively glistening surface”), and the minutia of Yungman’s work routines can drag a bit, but Lee offers touching details of Yungman’s nostalgia for the Korea of his youth, where “small dandelions... carpeted the grass like stars.” It’s a little bumpy, but fans of immigrant stories will appreciate Lee’s labor of love. Agent: Kimberly Witherspoon, InkWell Management. (May)