Ask a Bookseller: innovative new novel explores one 'nuclear' family

Ginger Kautz of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina recommends Joseph Han’s debut novel “Nuclear Family,” which comes out Tuesday, June 7. Kautz calls the stylistically innovative novel “part family drama, part ghost story, part coming-of-age and critique of American imperialism in the Pacific.”  

The cover for nuclear family
Nuclear Family by Joseph Han.
Counterpoint Press

The story is set in 2018, during the time leading up to the false missile alert on Hawaii. The Cho family is horrified when their older son, who is teaching English in South Korea, is caught on viral video trying to cross the demilitarized zone. What his family in Hawaii doesn’t know is that he has been possessed by the ghost of his grandfather, who is trying to reach lost family members.  

The sudden infinite infamy threatens the Cho family business, which relies on the local South Korean community. It drives their daughter Grace’s recreational week use into a serious habit. 

Kautz was struck by the innovative structure of this novel, which includes not only multiple viewpoints but also multiple formats. The words in some places form towers and walls. Words are left off the page as Grace tries to avoid certain thoughts.  

“Even though some of the topics and scenes are heavy overall, Kautz says, “it is really a very optimistic book. It's got a lot of humor in it. The love the family has for one another as much bigger than their inability to communicate effectively with each other.” 

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