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The Mountain: Stories

Review

The Mountain: Stories

The six stories that comprise Paul Yoon’s short story collection, THE MOUNTAIN, share much in common. The characters are lonely or alone, unrooted and adrift, caught in spaces not their own. Yoon’s style is consistent as well --- dreamy yet stark --- and so it feels as if the characters may wander in and out of the tales belonging to each other. As a whole, this is a beautifully rendered and cohesive book composed of distinct and haunting stories.

“A Willow and the Moon,” the first story, sets the tone for the collection. In it, a man remembers his parents and the wars that changed everything. Living through both World War I and World War II in Europe, the narrator recalls not just the bombings but also the psychological effects of a fractured continent. The central place and symbol in this story is a sanatorium high up in the mountains. It is a place of both disease and healing, of being parented and being orphaned.

"Impressionistic in style yet somehow sparse and controlled, Yoon’s approach is unique and lovely. Overall this is a wonderful collection, a moving and powerful exploration of the human experience."

The themes of solitude, memory, family and loss are the threads that Yoon weaves through all these stories. “Still a Fire” divides its perspective between Mikal and Karine. Like the first story, here the Second World War looms large. Mikal is living in a shantytown with other displaced persons, survivors and refugees. He looks for work every day, eking out a dismal living. One day, he and his neighbor Artur accept a mysterious job, and their work ends in a gruesome tragedy. Recovering in the hospital, Mikal meets Karine, a nurse addicted to the morphine she administers to her patients. The uncertainty, sadness and desperation of both these characters, as well as those around them, are palpable.

One of the longer stories, “The Mountain,” follows a young Chinese woman in Korea. Faye, far from home and still missing the father she lost track of years ago, is living on the streets. She is recruited by a man she calls Karaoke Champion for work, close to her hometown, in a factory assembling cameras. The stability and safety she finds in the factory and the factory housing is incomplete and tense. Even with a job, a place to live and some companions, she remains alone. She, like so many of Yoon’s characters, remains hopeful for a return home, whether to a physical space or through finding a parent.

The single optimistic story, “Milner Field,” closes the collection. While the narrator also mourns the loss of his father, a doctor who emigrated to New York from South Korea in the 1970s having lived through the war there, his focus is on celebrating his daughter, Philippa. They have a close and loving relationship, despite being challenged by adversity. Yoon shines here just as he does with the other, more sorrowful stories.

THE MOUNTAIN is full of trauma, fresh and scarred over, as well as damaged artists, addicts, veterans, survivors, orphans, memories and ghosts. The mountains Yoon writes of are metaphoric and literal, places up and away, receding into the past or looming in the future. Impressionistic in style yet somehow sparse and controlled, Yoon’s approach is unique and lovely. Overall this is a wonderful collection, a moving and powerful exploration of the human experience.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on August 18, 2017

The Mountain: Stories
by Paul Yoon

  • Publication Date: August 15, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1501154087
  • ISBN-13: 9781501154089