“A quick sampling from our shop: From Japan, we featured flowing kimonos, cloisonné bonzai trees, cone-shaped patchouli incense in tiny red sacks with gold drawstrings. From China, ceramic figurines of happy bald monks, shrieking dragons carved out of soapstone, silk pajamas with tiny Chinese eyehook buttons. And from Korea, a round black plaque accented with mother-of-pearl flowers, a guitarlike instrument that intoned sad and lonely vibes, a tall regal vase with glassy cracked skin.”
There’s a certain genius inherent in choosing a strip mall as a 1980s period setting, and Woo makes the most of it, filling the book with the way customers’ and neighboring storeowners’ lives touch – sometimes only glancingly – on the three Kims’ first year in America. At first the non-Kim stories seem only connected by geography, but Woo has cleverly constructed a central narrative that runs like a Venn diagram through the tour of Peddlers Town.
“Could be worse,” is about all the enthusiasm David can muster for his new life, but that’s enough to put him on the pep squad compared with his older sister and mom. (Nonetheless, every time his dad winks at him and calls him “my good son,” he can’t help wincing internally.)
Fifteen-year-old In Sook (now called Susan) is furiously miserable – longing for her friends and her music, and loathing the dad who forced her to leave everything she loved for a place where she doesn’t fit in.
And after five years as a single parent, In Young is struggling to reunite with her husband and not resent being left alone for so many years.
“The fact was, even though she was no longer the one left behind, she still felt like she was.”
In the meantime, she’s expected to acquire a new name (she chooses Emma, from Jane Austen) and learn to digest foul substances such as cheese.