In the middle of the bustling, crowded city, a young girl fends for herself. She left home, still a young teenager, trying to put her sad and broken home life behind her. What she finds on the streets is at once sicker and more optimistic than what she left. Her choice is between the destruction and danger of heroine and prostitution and the struggle for a safer and healthier life. For Joon, this decision is harder than it seems.
Joon is the dysfunctional and likable protagonist of Nami Mun's debut novel, MILES FROM NOWHERE. A Korean immigrant, she acculturates to America but her parents flounder. The alcoholism and mental illness they suffered from in Korea comes with them to their new home, and Joon is the consistent victim. Her father drinks, yells, hits and humiliates, then disappears to seedy motels by himself or with other women. Joon's mother sends her to find him and in the meantime enters near-catatonic states brought on by her hurt, anger and frustration. Joon often finds her “playing dead” for days at a time, unable to cope at all.
At the shelters, on the streets, in the flophouses and cheap motels, Joon finds other damaged kids with whom she forms close but tenuous bonds. Knowledge is the tough-talking, big-dreaming runaway who teaches Joon the rules out on the streets. They weave in and out of each others’ lives until they finally lose each other forever. Wink is the sensitive young male prostitute and Lana the violent transsexual “dance hall girl.” Joon moves from one demeaning job to another but eventually finds work in a nursing home. It is there she meets Blue Fly, the beautiful but unfaithful junkie with whom she will live even though he breaks her heart.
Through violence and heartache, pain and addiction, Joon maintains a weary optimism that she will be fine in the end. She is more tender than the people around her but still wise and wary. She tells readers her story in a fog --- the fog of drugs, of memory, or of both. The action takes place in New York City in the 1980s, and Mun captures well the darkness behind the cheery disco facade. Her prose is graceful and spooky, painful in its details and realism but lightened by pop culture references and a sly and quiet wit.
MILES FROM NOWHERE isn't completely original; there are plenty of great runaway or kid-on-the-street stories. Still, Mun's is well written with a blend of romanticism and brutal honesty.
In “Miles from Nowhere” Cat Stevens sang, “Miles from nowhere, I guess I'll take my time, oh yeah, to reach there.” He sang simply and poetically, of obstacles and the reliance on self. Mun's novel explores those themes and others such as guilt and invisibility, family and friends, loneliness and dependence. MILES FROM NOWHERE, with its readability and vignette-like format, gives readers plenty to think about it.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 7, 2011
Miles From Nowhere