Nuclear Family: A Novel (Hardcover)

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June 2022 Indie Next List

“This stunning debut follows a young man who, possessed by his grandfather’s ghost, attempts to cross the Demilitarized Zone in North Korea. A remarkable — and at turns hilarious — story of family, grief, and intergenerational trauma.”
— Lindsay Lynch, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN


Winner of the AAAS Book Award for Prose
APALA Adult Literature Honor Book
Shortlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Prize
Longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A TIME Best Book of the Year

Set in the months leading up to the 2018 nuclear missile false alarm, a Korean American family living in Hawai'i faces the fallout of their eldest son's attempt to run across the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea in this "fresh, inventive, and at times, hilarious novel" (Kaui Hart Hemmings, author of The Descendants)

Things are looking up for Mr. and Mrs. Cho. Their dream of franchising their Korean plate lunch restaurants across Hawaiʻi seems within reach after a visit from Guy Fieri boosts the profile of Cho’s Delicatessen. Their daughter, Grace, is busy finishing her senior year of college and working for her parents, while her older brother, Jacob, just moved to Seoul to teach English. But when a viral video shows Jacob trying—and failing—to cross the Korean demilitarized zone, nothing can protect the family from suspicion and the restaurant from waning sales.

 No one knows that Jacob has been possessed by the ghost of his lost grandfather, who feverishly wishes to cross the divide and find the family he left behind in the north. As Jacob is detained by the South Korean government, Mr. and Mrs. Cho fear their son won’t ever be able to return home, and Grace gets more and more stoned as she negotiates her family’s undoing. Struggling with what they don’t know about themselves and one another, the Chos must confront the separations that have endured in their family for decades.

Set in the months leading up to the 2018 false missile alert in Hawaiʻi, Joseph Han’s profoundly funny and strikingly beautiful debut novel is an offering that aches with histories inherited and reunions missed, asking how we heal in the face of what we forget and who we remember.

About the Author

JOSEPH HAN was born in Korea and raised in Hawaiʻi. He is an editor for the West region of Joyland magazine, and a recipient of a Kundiman Fellowship in Fiction. His writing has appeared in Nat.Brut, Catapult, Pleiades Magazine, Platypus Press Shorts, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He received a PhD in English and Creative Writing at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. He is currently living in Honolulu.

Praise For…

Winner of the AAAS Book Award for Prose
APALA Adult Literature Honor Book
Shortlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Prize
Longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, TIME, Debutiful, and them
Named a Most Anticipated Book by BuzzFeed, LGBTQ Reads, The Millions, Goodreads, and more

"You’d have to visit Cirque du Soleil to see someone juggle as much as Han with such effortless dexterity and tenderness . . . Rhythmic and hypnotic; it captivates from the very first page and gracefully conveys the loss and the longing the family experiences." —The New York Times Book Review

"This book is genius . . . The narrative is inventive, and the prose is too: upside-down sentences, scrambled language, erased words. None of this is distracting; it only enhances the reading experience. Oh, and the book is funny. No. Hilarious. Nuclear Family woke me up from the deep slumber of Covid and brought me back to life. I’m sure it will do the same for every reader." —Morgan Talty, The Wall Street Journal

"Joseph Han’s heartfelt and hilarious novel is so well executed, so self-assured, that it’s hard to believe it’s a debut . . . Guy Fieri, who makes a cameo in the novel, might call this book 'off the chain'; we’ll just settle for 'masterful.'" —Michael Schaub, A NPR Best Book of the Year

"[A] gorgeous debut." —TIME

"Inventive." —A Washington Post Book to Read This Summer

"An inventive debut . . . In Nuclear Family, through laughter and wonder and intriguing complexity, Han makes us pay attention." —Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times

"The unalloyed genius of Nuclear Family is not just its use of but improvement on the venerable ghost story." —Tim Pfaff, Bay Area Reporter

"This bizarre comic plot showcases Han’s uncanny ability to expose in a fresh way the battles inherent in preserving a complicated cultural identity." —Connie Ogle, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"Although some scenes in the story are heavy, the novel has a fundamental optimism. The love the family members have for each other is bigger than the understanding gaps between them, moments of levity appear throughout, and even the futures of Korea and Hawai’i themselves are presented as full of possibility." —WRAL News, A Best Book of the Year

"Local-centric screwball comedies emotionally grounded in the trauma of immigrant separation aren’t new, but few have shown the panache of Joseph Han’s debut novel, Nuclear Family." —Don Wallace, Honolulu Magazine

"Heart-rending and, dare we say it, quite funny." —Seija Rankin, The Hollywood Reporter

"A richly imagined, era-straddling saga exploring several generations of a Korean American clan." —Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

"There are many books out there that fuse serious social and cultural issues with comedy, folkloric elements with contemporary style, accessible prose with intellectual rigor. To do it all in this debut novel so seamlessly is Joseph Han’s gift . . . This imaginative and propulsive story proves that Han is a literary talent to watch." —Matt Ortile, Esquire

"This book is captivating from beginning to end." —Sarah Neilson, Shondaland

"Gorgeous . . . If you love queerness, ghosts, and Guy Fieri, then you've gotta give this a read." —Corinne Sullivan, Cosmopolitan

"An entrancing, boldly satisfying debut from Joseph Han. It feels both massive, grand on a global scale, and also small and intimate; a deeply personal story of a family trying to keep their small business open when their son suddenly causes the eyes of the world to turn on them. Nuclear Family is a knock-out." —Jeffrey Masters, The Advocate, One of the Best Books of The Year

"Nuclear Family is many things: a ghost story embedded into a multigenerational Korean family saga; a typographical experiment utilizing elements of concrete poetry; a reckoning with the U.S. military; a lowbrow stoner comedy . . . It’s funny, but at its heart Nuclear Family is about the many fractures, fallouts, and fissures caused by war." —Mitchell Kuga, FLUX Hawai'i

"Nuclear Family is also a warm and, most importantly, funny read. There is no melodrama; there is no tragedy beyond what we would expect from real people going through the tough parts of life . . . Nuclear Family invites those who are unfamiliar but are willing to explore its world with an open heart. It is a book that exemplifies what is unique and special about Korean American literature outside of Korean or American literature, and one that will haunt the reader for a while." —Minyoung Lee, Chicago Review of Books

"Beautifully strange . . . Han tells a moving and specific story about [. . .] symbolic possessions—how violence possesses bodies, how history possesses the present and how a person’s stories remain alive in their descendants, even if those stories go unspoken . . . Darkly funny, delightfully surprising and with a sprinkling of unusual formatting that reveals hidden subplots, Han’s debut bears witness to the brutal realities of war and imperialism while honoring the many kinds of magic that exist in the world." —Laura Sackton, BookPage

"Such a beautiful, original book . . . It’s a gorgeous meditation on loss and memory, a painful and haunting novel about the legacies of war and the violence of separation." —Laura Sackton, Book Riot

"Han’s powerful book examines both the borders put up in the world and the ones we surround ourselves with to protect ourselves in this memorable and innovative debut" —Adam Vitcavage, Debutiful

"Tragic, funny, and strikingly ingenious, Han’s prodigious debut is a spectacular achievement. Seamlessly dovetailed into his sublime multigenerational saga are pivotal history lessons, anti-colonial denunciations, political slaps. For Korean speakers, Han’s brilliant linguistic acrobatics will prove particularly enlightening (Jeong is a homophone for jeong, something akin to empathic connection) and shrewdly entertaining." —Booklist (starred review)

“Han makes a smashing debut with this stunning take on identity and migration told through the multiple perspectives of a Korean American family . . . [W]hile it’s heartbreaking, it’s also sharply hilarious . . . This is a master class from a brilliant new voice.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Han’s surreal fantasy, sometimes devolving into slapstick, contains a serious critique: of the marginalization of Korean immigrants; of the plight of families separated by a politically contrived border; of shattered lives, pain, and guilt. A raucous and adroit debut." —Kirkus Reviews

“One of the most original novels I’ve read in the last decade. Nuclear Family imagines a story of the lives of our Korean ancestors in the present tense, their ghost life as full of urgency, politics, and complication as our own. How far does the separation at the thirty-eighth parallel go?, Han asks. All the way into the land of spirit, a wound for the living and the dead.” —Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

Nuclear Family is a world unto itself: Joseph Han's novel is heartfelt and propulsive, immersing readers in a narrative whose questions of family, borders, queerness, and forgiveness constantly surprises and astounds. Han's prose is remarkable—both deadpan and compassionate—juggling the stories that we're told with the ones we seek to tell ourselves. Nuclear Family is a singular work, and Han's writing is truly special.” —Bryan Washington, author of Memorial and Lot

Product Details
ISBN: 9781640094864
ISBN-10: 1640094865
Publisher: Counterpoint
Publication Date: June 7th, 2022
Pages: 320
Language: English