3. Mindset by Abhi the Nomad
I don’t talk to anybody but my grandfather’s ghost.
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As we catch up with Jacob in his self-imposed exile and return to South Korea, in his isolation he is vulnerable to haunting by spirits and the reemergence of Tae-woo, his long-lost maternal grandfather. Soon Tae-woo becomes his sole company and shenanigans ensue on the way to a great ploy that will endanger them both.
4. Ugly by Deb Never
Deb Never is one of my favorite Korean American musicians, and I listened to her music a lot while writing the Grace chapters. If I had to fan cast, the answer is right there.
5. Downers by Greentea Peng
As Grace fully embraces the stoner life, to deal with increasing amounts of stress and anxiety, she becomes more detached from friends, family, and herself than ever. She copes the only way she knows how: by getting lost in the clouds.
6. Plastic by Moses Sumney
Jacob is possessed and inhabited by his grandfather, which allows him to access Tae-woo’s memories of climbing the grand tower of dead and hoping to jump across the spiritual wall preventing their returns. But this is a flawed and foolish endeavor, and Jacob soon realizes how Tae-woo may be flying too close to the sun yet again.
7. Ho'omau Ke Ola by Punahele
There’s a shout-out to Punahele in the novel. When Grace and David eat at Zippy’s, he shows her a video of a recent live performance of Punahele’s. I imagined this would be that song.
8. Flowers & Superpowers by Wafia
There’s a circular quality to the soundtrack, and there’s a moment in the music video for this song where Wafia and the camera rotate upside down. This song likewise captures Grace’s routine experience of disorientation, which comes to a head in that same Zippy’s scene. Is this real life? Am I dreaming?/ I feel a little bit sick but I’m in love with this feeling.
Like Jacob/Tae-woo, Grace near the end of the novel has reached unprecedented heights and needs to come down before she spins out of control.
9. In Hell by Japanese Breakfast
Hell is finding someone to love/ And I can’t see you again.
One the central themes of Nuclear Family
is wishing to see the face of someone you love who has passed as time continues to pass without them.
10. Long Year by AUDREY NUNA
Another talented Korean American artist, AUDREY NUNA captures the exasperation of enduring long bouts of absence, distance, separation.
11. Ballistic Missile Threat by Punahele
Considering the last chapter of the novel, how could I not end this playlist with this song?
12. The Spiritual Augmentation of Orange and Lahaina by Punahele
One more Punahele song for good measure! This is my favorite song from the album From Beneath Mauna Kea
, which was written and recorded during the gathering of kia?i on Mauna Kea to protect their sacred mountain from further desecration by the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope — still being resisted and opposed today. Listen to the whole album.
÷ ÷ ÷
is the author of Nuclear Family
, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and a 2022 National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. A recipient of a Kundiman fellowship, his work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine
, Lit Hub
, and Catapult