“Miles from Nowhere” is a novel dominated by a belief that one day, things will get better.
Author Nami Mun’s book follows Joon, a Korean immigrant living in the Bronx in the ’80s.
Joon watches her parents’ marriage crumble as the family attempts to adjust to life in America.
When Joon’s father leaves home for good, her mother enters a depression that perpetuates family silence.
“My mom and I only saw each other once in a while, in the kitchen or the hallway. We ate alone, we cried alone, we didn’t answer the door. My dad never called,” narrator Joon says.
It’s enough to make 13-year-old Joon think she’d be better off alone.
So she leaves home, initiating a day-to-day survival strategy.
She works in an escort club. Sells cosmetics. Battles addiction.
But even in the book’s darkest moments, there is a focus on resilience.
Despite her setbacks, Joon repeatedly focuses on a potential for greatness — perhaps the same sense of potential that drew her parents to America.
“I’d slept in shelters, in abandoned buildings. I’d been beaten. And at the start of every new day, I still believed I could choose my own beginning, one that was scrubbed clean of everything past,” Joon tells readers.
Joon’s role as a drifter makes her more sympathetic to outcasts.
Instinctively, she relates to those most in need of a connection — like transgender Lana, whom she befriends while working at the escort club.
So the book is just as much a snapshot of society’s most marginalized members, and how they react once they realize the odds are stacked against them.
Author Mun is also a Korean immigrant who grew up in New York.
Like Joon, Mun was a teen runaway who held a series of eclectic jobs: street vendor, photojournalist, bartender, criminal investigator and more.
However, in interviews, the author maintains “Miles from Nowhere” is only 1 percent autobiographical. She says she researched much of the book through documentaries, articles and essays.
The final product is an interesting glimpse of the runaway lifestyle. It raises questions about what we’re willing to sacrifice in the name of survival.
But on a broader level, “Miles from Nowhere” highlights an immigrant experience that really isn’t that foreign after all.
Joon’s journey represents a search for self — a search for belonging — that unites all humans, not just ones who live at life’s fringes.
Sonya Sorich, feature writer, can be reached at 706-571-8516.