MILES FROM NOWHERE by Nami Mun

Book Quote:

“I’d left a bed and a mother to sleep under storefront awnings right beside men who thought a homeless girl was a warm radiator they could put their hands to. 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.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (DEC 8, 2009)

Nami Mun’s Miles From Nowhere is a bold and gritty account of a young girl who leaves home at thirteen and experiences life on the streets, rape, addiction, and a series of horrific life events. She writes with no holds barred and her book reminded me in some ways of Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr. It’s has that succinct, in-your-face style of writing that is both riveting and painful at the same time.

Joon is a Korean girl who leaves home at thirteen. Her father is a philandering drunk who is physically abusive and her mother has been unable to function since her father left. Her mother is virtually catatonic and does not interact with Joon at all. Sometimes Joon finds her mother lying in the dirt in their backyard. Her mother has stopped speaking to her. As Joon says, “One night I found her reading her bible on the sofa. I sat next to her and begged her to say one word, just one. I even gave her some suggestions: Apple. Lotion. Jesus. Rice. She didn’t look up from the pages. This lasted six months. This lasted until the day I left”.

The book is structured in chapters, each one capable of standing alone as a short story. In fact, several of the chapters have been published as short stories in different literary journals. The chapters show Joon’s life past and present, providing the reader with Joon’s story: her feelings, experiences, loves, friendships, disasters, pain, and ultimately, hopes for the future.

The novel begins with Joon in a shelter for run-aways. There she is befriended by a girl named Knowledge who is present in several of the book’s chapters. Knowledge is more worldly than Joon and tries to mentor Joon in the ways of the street. She actually gives Joon lessons in street morality asking her what she learned today. She proudly tells Joon, “Sometimes you gotta do wrong to do right, know what I’m saying?” There’s a complex rule of law for the street, very different from the rule of law that governs regular citizens.

During the course of this book, Joon struggles with heroin addiction, alcohol abuse, and uses most every drug she can get her hands on. She works as a hostess, a street vendor, a hooker, an Avon lady, a geriatric aide, and as a food deliverer. One can’t help but wonder if some of this book is not autobiographical. The author herself is Korean and the blurb about her states that she worked as an Avon lady, a street vendor and in a nursing home. She also attained a GED before college rather than going the usual route of high school.

Joon is a survivor. She struggles and finds herself challenged at many junctions but she plods on. She even finds it in herself to help others who are in worse shape than she is. However, the presentation of her ultimate aloneness in the world is profound. She has no one and is on her own as a child in the dangerous world of the Bronx. She often is homeless, sleeping in abandoned buildings or at bus stops. She is a pragmatist, knowing that life in the streets is not easy or good for her. “ In order to get what I needed – - shelter, food, money, friendship – - parts of me, piece by piece, would have to be sacrificed.” Joon learns to leave others before she is left, to move on without having to feel intimacy, even if she needs to squelch her feelings with a needle and smack.

This is a powerful book, not for the faint of heart. It is also a rewarding book, one that allows the reader to companion Joon in her life. It keeps our eyes open to another world, one that we may not have lived ourselves but one that is lived every day by so many of the children in the world. By the time I had finished this book, Joon had grabbed my heart and taken a piece of it with her.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 46 readers
PUBLISHER: Riverhead Trade; Reprint edition (September 1, 2009)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AMAZON PAGE: Miles from Nowhere
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Nami Mun
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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December 8, 2009 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Debut Novel, New York City, Reading Guide

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