Synopses & Reviews
This warm and funny tale of an earnest preppy editor finding himself trapped behind the counter of a Brooklyn convenience store is about family, culture, and identity in an age of discombobulation.
It starts with a gift, when Ben Ryder Howe's wife, the daughter of Korean immigrants, decides to repay her parents' self-sacrifice by buying them a store. Howe, an editor at the rarefied Paris Review, agrees to go along. Things soon become a lot more complicated. After the business struggles, Howe finds himself living in the basement of his in-laws' Staten Island home, commuting to the Paris Review offices in George Plimpton's Upper East Side townhouse by day, and heading to Brooklyn at night to slice cold cuts and peddle lottery tickets. My Korean Deli follows the store's tumultuous life span, and along the way paints the portrait of an extremely unlikely partnership between characters with shoots across society, from the Brooklyn streets to Seoul to Puritan New England. Owning the deli becomes a transformative experience for everyone involved as they struggle to salvage the original gift—and the family—while sorting out issues of values, work, and identity.
"Former senior editor of the Paris Review, Howe recounts his stint as owner and beleaguered worker of a Brooklyn deli in this touching memoir. Howe and his wife, Gab, the daughter of Korean immigrants, decide to buy a deli for her parents as a gesture of goodwill for the sacrifices they have made. His mother-in-law, Kay, whom he describes as 'the Mike Tyson of Korean grandmothers,' is gung-ho from the start, and when a store is finally purchased in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn, she immediately takes charge. The work (including manipulating the devilish lottery machine) is more trying than Howe anticipated, not to mention dealing with the eccentric neighborhood characters who complain bitterly about any changes, from coffee prices to shelf rearrangements. Mostly working the night shift, Howe also maintains his position at the magazine. Both establishments are sinking ships: the deli hemorrhages money as bills pile up and revenue falters; the Review grows more disorganized, and subscribership plummets. Howe ably transforms what could have been a string of amusing vignettes about deli ownership into a humorous but heartfelt look into the complexities of family dynamics and the search for identity. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"In this WASP-out-of-water tale of a Paris Review editor moonlighting as deli owner or is it the other way around? Howe plunges boldly into life's ultimate mysteries: marriage, money, cohabitation with in-laws, the yin-yang currents of striving and slacking, and perhaps the biggest mystery of them all why the store can be empty of customers for hours and hours, and then twenty show up at once. Read this book, and you'll come away wiser not just in the ways of the world, but of the human heart as well." Ben Fountain, author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara
"My Korean Deli is about a Korean deli, as I expected. But it's also about love, culture-clashes, family, money and literature. Plus, it happens to be very funny and poignant. So buy a Slim Jim and a Vitamin water and sit down to enjoy it." A.J. Jacobs, author of The Know It All and The Year of Living Biblically
"I don't know how else to explain My Korean Deli except to say that Ben Ryder Howe has made kimchi. As in that splendid staple dish of Korea, the mundane (cabbage/Brooklyn) is combined with the piquant (crazy spices/families) and pickled (natural fermentation/a job at the Paris Review). The result is overpoweringly good. But My Korean Deli will sweeten your reading rather than stinking up your house and will give you deep thoughts not breath that can kill mice in the walls." P.J. O'Rourke
"Poking fun at everything from his stereotypically WASP upbringing to his 'tank' (he said it) of a mother-in law....Howe has created a smartly measured and propulsive read." Booklist
"Howe's portrait of the septaugenarian [George] Plimpton is priceless....Howe's combining of the Upper East Side's old world with immigrant survival skills conveys what is absolutely the best of New York. Delightful." Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Ben Ryder Howe has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and Outside, and his work has been selected for Best American Travel Writing. He is a former senior editor of The Paris Review. He, his wife, and their two children live on Staten Island. This is his first book.