Amy Mazzariello, February 26, 2009 (view all comments by Amy Mazzariello)
Miles from Nowhere is Nami Muns debut novel. A work of urban fiction set in the 1980‘s, 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 found myself following 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.
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sydne, December 9, 2008 (view all comments by sydne)
such a stark story of a girl choosing life on the streets instead of life with an absent father and non-responsive mother! at times hard to read(because of the grittiness of events), the story is quite gripping and original.
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Mun's first novel is a 1980s urban odyssey in which Joon-Mee, a 12-year-old Korean-American, leaves her troubled Bronx family for the life of a New York City runaway. The novel follows Joon over six years, as she lives in a homeless shelter, finds work as an underage escort and a streetwalker, succumbs to drug addiction and petty crime, then tries to turn it all around. Along the way we meet a cast of addicts, grifters and homeless people, including Wink, a boisterous but vulnerable young street veteran ('I didn't even know they had boy prostitutes'); Knowledge, a friend who ropes Joon into helping steal her family's Christmas tree; and Benny, a drugged-up orderly and self-destructive love interest. Mun is careful not to lean on the '80s ambience, and Joon's voice, purged of self-pity, sounds clear and strong on every page. Individual scenes, including Joon's first john, her interview with an antagonistic employment counselor and her climactic encounter with a good-hearted former neighbor, are wonderfully written. Unfortunately, the novel's episodic structure prevents Joon's story from building to anything greater than its parts." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"There is nothing simplistic or sensationalized here as Mun, a writer of gravitas, portrays the dispossessed and the cast-out, reminding us how quickly things can go disastrously wrong, how tough it is to live outside the margins."
by Library Journal,
"A haunting debut by an author who made her own journey from runaway to writer."
by Dallas Morning News,
"For those who enjoy strictly lighthearted reads, this might not be enough. But those who delight in the raw power of words have a new author to add to our libraries."
by Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl,
"A starkly beautiful book, shot through with grace and lit by an off-hand street poetry. Nami Mun takes a cast of junkies and runaways and brings them fiercely and frankly to life. It's a measure of the artistry of the work that even in their grimmest, darkest moments, rather than being repelled by these characters, we want to stay beside them, as if to care for them, or at least to bear witness to their lives."
by Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint It Black,
"Suspenseful, funny, painful, and poetic, Nami Mun's debut shows a talent for close observation and a prose that fills the grit of street life with flashes of gold."
by Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh,
"Nami Mun is easily one of the most important new talents in American fiction."
by Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City,
"Stunning. The visceral power of Nami Mun's Miles from Nowhere sneaks up on you — whatever heartache or humor you find within these pages is embodied in her shimmering prose, distilled to the bone. I found myself reading passages out loud to friends, passages I thought were hallucinatory and funny, only to find myself choking back real tears."
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.
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