Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz

Everything Belongs to Us

Yoojin Grace Wuertz

In this sweeping debut, Yoojin Grace Wuertz details four intertwining lives that are rife with turmoil and desire, private anxieties and public betrayals, dashed hopes and broken dreams.

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Two young women of vastly different means each struggle to find her own way during the darkest hours of South Korea’s “economic miracle” in a striking debut novel for readers of Anthony Marra and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie.
 
Seoul, 1978. At South Korea’s top university, the nation’s best and brightest compete to join the professional elite of an authoritarian regime. Success could lead to a life of rarefied privilege and wealth; failure means being left irrevocably behind.
           
For childhood friends Jisun and Namin, the stakes couldn’t be more different. Jisun, the daughter of a powerful business mogul, grew up on a mountainside estate with lush gardens and a dedicated chauffeur. Namin’s parents run a tented food cart from dawn to curfew; her sister works in a shoe factory. Now Jisun wants as little to do with her father’s world as possible, abandoning her schoolwork in favor of the underground activist movement, while Namin studies tirelessly in the service of one goal: to launch herself and her family out of poverty.
           
But everything changes when Jisun and Namin meet an ambitious, charming student named Sunam, whose need to please his family has led him to a prestigious club: the Circle. Under the influence of his mentor, Juno, a manipulative social climber, Sunam becomes entangled with both women, as they all make choices that will change their lives forever.
           
In this sweeping yet intimate debut, Yoojin Grace Wuertz details four intertwining lives that are rife with turmoil and desire, private anxieties and public betrayals, dashed hopes and broken dreams—while a nation moves toward prosperity at any cost.
 
Praise for Everything Belongs to Us

“Engrossing. [Yoojin Grace] Wuertz is an important new voice in American fiction.”Kirkus, starred review

“[A] memorable debut . . . Wuertz crafts a story with delicious scenes and plot threads.”Publishers Weekly

“An absorbing debut destined for major lists and nominations.”Booklist

"In Everything Belongs to Us, Wuertz has given us a Middlemarch for modern South Korea. She’s woven the whole social tapestry, and made us care about every last thread.”—Susan Choi, author of My Education

“I found myself engrossed in the difficult choices faced by Wuertz’s nuanced, engaging characters as they navigate college politics and romance in 1970s Seoul. I’m thrilled to have experienced their inner lives in these pages—to have celebrated their victories and commiserated in the pain of their mistakes—and would happily have stuck with them for hundreds more.”—Emily Barton, author of The Book of Esther

“What a story! Everything belongs to this terrific debut: love, family, friendship, and politics. I especially loved the two strong-willed and passionate heroines. Their ideals, choices, and struggles make this an utterly rapturous literary page-turner.”—Samuel Park, author of This Burns My Heart
 
“Historic in scope yet eerily contemporary, Everything Belongs to Us is a stirring debut that immerses readers in a society where some quietly hope for change and others must demand it.  In Yoojin Grace Wuertz’s capable hands, characters come alive with desire for a different kind of life, and heartbreak is the price of longing.”—Jung Yun, author of Shelter


Advance Galley Reviews

Set in Seoul, 1978, following the lives of various students--from Jisun, wealthy and near-imprisoned daughter of a businessman, to her friend Namin, who is her parents only escape from poverty, and Sunam, whose family is comfortable but wants him to achieve more, to Juno, Sunam's mentor who has plans of his own for Jisun. These four students' lives intertwine, as they all try to achieve their ambitions, struggle, and succeed or fail. With such complex, conflicting needs, betrayal is inevitable, as they can't all win. Some of the characters I related to more than others, and overall I found the story a little long, dragging in places, and the ending anti-climatic. The history was interesting, and the class interactions felt realistic, and places were pretty gripping. But by the time I was more than halfway through, I was ready for the story to be over.

I enjoyed Everything Belongs to Us a great deal. It gave me the opportunity to learn about a time and place that I was unfamiliar with, South Korea in the 1970s and 80s. A time of turmoil and growing up as a country. Many of the primary conflicts are driven by class and inequality issues, emphasizing how hard it can be to escape your level in that type of society. This was true for the two main characters, one trying to work her way out of the slums and one trying to be a labor organizer but coming from the upper class. At the same time the novel was delving into political and class issues, Wuertz created excellent characters that I could care about as a reader. I would recommend this book to most any reader of historical and literary fiction.

Rating: 3.5 Set in 1978 in South Korea, we start this novel out with the tale of protesters/factory workers who are unhappy with the conditions in their workplaces. We follow four main characters, who each follow different life paths throughout the book and give the readers glimpses to their struggles and victories. A word that I would use this is clunky but memorable. The narrative switches from one person to another rapidly, and I found it extremely hard to follow along with what was going on with the various storylines. Rarely did they intersect in a way where I understood how the "puzzle pieces" of the story fit in. Also, in the epilogue there was some vague mentions of news of one of the MC's in a newspaper article, but I honestly was very curious to see from their perspective how they feel about being successful in their life. It was just jarring to be traveling with this character throughout this whole book, and then we have no word directly from her fifteen years later, while other character got the stage. Jinsun and Namin were the two characters who really stood out to me, because I genuinely enjoyed watching their complex female friendship progress through the years, and also a look at the various flashbacks that got them to where they are today. They were deeply flawed, deeply imperfect characters, but that's what made them more realistic and admirable to me. Namin is an ambitious, brilliant, family oriented women who is on the track to success and has so much potential ahead of her. Jinsun is the daughter of an extremely rich businessmen, one of the top friends with the current leader of South Korean. She floats around in this book, without seeming to lay down roots. While I could appreciate Namin's drive, I could also sympathize with Jinsun's unfortunate circumstances which led her to where she is today. The historical significance of this, hit very close to home in current events that are going on in the USA. Intentionally or not, I got a sense of relevance and urgency that was coming out of these pages. The framing of the three day protests, the political landscape, the governments actions, seemed to me to be very well researched, although presented in a removed way. The writing wasn't measuring up to my high expectations, (maybe that's partially my fault), but I felt like this was a just average style that I've seen done dozens of times before in literary fiction. This story felt promising and had lots of potential, yet I felt like the author could have gone farther with what she said. Granted, she's a debut author, and I can respect that fact and give her wiggle room to grow in her future projects. This story features friendship, familial responsibilities, coming into your adulthood, activism, political intrigue, and the moral dilemmas that people face everyday. It falls into the literary historical fiction category. Overall, I enjoyed the reading experience itself and would recommend for fans of these topics and genre to definitively pick it up. **Thanks to the publisher for sending me an arc in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

This is a powerful portrait of South Korea in the late 1970s/early 1980s. It also introduces characters and issues that are more relevant today in America than they might have been 5 years ago. The stage was set for me in a scene with the two female protagonists. One, born to money and luxury, has spent her time protesting for workers' rights, and she visits her poor friend, expecting her to be grateful for the protesting efforts. Her friend, who is studying hard to get ahead in life, at that moment just wants to find someone to come empty her family's toilet since that part of the city doesn't have plumbing yet. These two young women, ostensibly best friends, mistake each other, talk past each other, throughout the book. Their story is wonderfully done. The story also spends quite a bit of time with the male protagonist, and the author spends a good amount of effort making sure we the readers won't like him. He's a bit of a cad. It may be that to the author, he's emblematic of some aspect of that whole generation. It doesn't make for a warm-hearted book, but he feels like he's essential to this story of coming of age of 3 youth and of their country, in a way, at the same time. I got a free copy to review from First to Read.

A wonderfully complex story that details the struggles between class, expectation, and families as depicted in the lives of Jisun, Namin, and Sunam. I found the characters fascinating and all the complex ties between them drove this story and drew me into a culture I really hadn't looked into before. However, their stories transcend that culture so that we can see our own drives and desires reflected there. And at the core of the story I see the question of what is the true cost of dreams and ambition? I enjoyed that there was no one answer to the question and we're left to figure out who felt the price well paid.

While I had almost nothing in common with any of the characters, the author still managed to get me invested in them and the story. Now that's great writing!

As I've never read a novel based in South Korea, this was an interesting read in a lot of ways. It was nice to know what the environment was like in Seoul during the 70's, and the different honorific titles depending on your relationship to the other person. Also, the characters, especially Jisun and Namin felt extremely real and lifelike. Although the topic was engaging, some parts of Everything Belongs to Us read really robotic, almost like a textbook or a Wikipedia article. It wasn't a page turner for me, and near the end I had to skim through pages to actually get to the end. Also, even with the quick summarized ending, I felt that there were a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions. Overall, the book just reads like a "slice of life" of sorts, just a preview of some random people's' lives (which isn't too much of a problem, but it feels like nothing ACTUALLY happens). I'd give this a 3/5, mainly for the setting and time period of the story.

After reading the summary of the book, I was looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. I found the story was hard to concentrate on and keep my attention. It seems like just when I was getting into the storyline, it became flat and I kept hoping as I got further into the book, it would get better. For me, it's not one of those books that you "just can't put down". I would have liked the author to concentrate more on Jisun and Namin and less on Juno and Sunan. I wanted more from the ending of the book and I felt let down. I thought the author could have made the ending so much stronger. With that being said, I liked the characters and the differences in their lives, their social classs, the struggles that each one had in their lives and their hopes and dream for their futures. I also enjoyed how the author portrayed Seoul in the 1970's. Not knowing the history, I found it interesting.

Everything Belongs to Us is an intensely character driven story that surrounds, for the majority, a friendship between two girls whose social status and ambitions are night and day. One desires to have “the life” and everything that was ever denied to her, while the other feels the need to rebel for the sake of rebellion, to hide what she is really missing. Their stories take place at a time of political and economic change in Korea and this setting merely highlights their struggles and ambitions. While the main two girls, and their one friend, display enough complexity for the whole book, the minor characters all show a different side of their world. I liked Namin because I could relate to her the most, the responsibility and the determination. At the same time I understood Jisun’s rebellious spirit and honest desire to help. Yet, these characters are way more multi-faceted and there is no way to draw a line to distinguish the good from the bad (or the noble from the corrupt). But what really pushes this book over the top for me is the title. It is just so cleverly done and executed throughout the novel. Those few words encompass the opportunities, the limitations, and the future. It explores the questions of what do we own in our live? Do we own our lives and our ambitions, our future? What do we want to own? We are forced to contemplate, like those in the story, the price of belonging and the cost of having it all. Just what will we do, and what happens to us once we have it?

I enjoyed this book so much. It was completely different from what I had expected. It's a beautifully written historical fiction focusing on three university students in Seoul in the 1970's. Their lives intersect in surprising ways, and it is so interesting to see how these characters struggle to overcome the limitations of their birth/family/class situations and what might have been destined for them. I really liked that all of the characters were good, but flawed in their own ways. Characters that are too perfect, or just pure evil, are annoying to me. I ended up rooting for all of them, even with their faults and mistakes. I learned a lot about a country that I feel I should know more about. Highly recommended for readers of historical fiction and family narratives.

Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz is the story of four young people set in the student protests against an authoritarian regime in South Korea. What I expected was politics and history anchored around the story of these four individuals. What the book delivers, however, is more a soap opera centered around their lives. Unfortunately, for me, the story completely overtakes the history. Read my complete review at http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2017/01/everything-belongs-to-us.html. Reviewed for NetGalley and the Penguin First to Read program.

Despite some unevenness, Everything Belongs to Us is a solid debut novel. I had never read a work of fiction set in South Korea, so I was kept engaged by it as a window into a culture I was quite naïve about. Sometimes the paragraphs of historical context can read a bit like an encyclopedia entry but I found it interesting nonetheless. It's stronger, though, when that history is told through the ensemble's experiences. It’s an ambitious novel, an engrossing novel at times, and I’m thankful to Random House for the loan.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I read the summary, but I couldn't put the book down. The 4 tales of young Koreans in the post-war era and their search for a place in society that fits what they want their identity to be is absolutely riveting. The struggles of each person, whether they are trying to escape their social class or stay in it, really comes through the pages and tugs at familiar feelings within myself. Wonderful book, highly recommend reading.

This book was not at all what I was expecting, but I found myself completely engaged. It was a great glimpse into a culture I'd never read about before.

Illuminating perspective on 70's South Korea. Well drawn characters. Grateful for the loaned advance copy from Penguin.

This book was a very interesting look at Seoul in the 70's. I have never read a book that was set in this part of the world before, so I really appreciated seeing a new perspective. I thought that the characters were fairly well done. They all seemed to have different identities, goals, and motives, which is important to me. Of course, there were characters that felt "more true to life" to me, but it didn't distract me or annoy me at all. In all, this book is part of my goal this year to read more diversely and I really enjoyed it.

This book started off strong, with interesting characters and compelling descriptions of life in Seoul in the late 70s. However, there didn't really end up being much of a plot and it just kind of tapered off. I enjoyed it but thought there could have been a bit more drama and a bit less melodrama. Even the melodrama wasn't that melodramatic!

An eye opening look at Seoul in the 70s.Politics ,college students characters that really drew me in.Their struggles passions choices a compelling read,

For me, Everything Belongs to Us, started out strong. I was interested in the character's different lives and how they saw each other. I hadn't read a book set in Korea, so that was engaging as well. However, then the story started jumping between point of view and maybe time? I started to get confused on where it was going. So much in the beginning seemed about the characters struggles to get to the future they wanted, but then it takes a turn to focus more on their relationships with one another and skimmed over their futures, which is what I was waiting for. I wanted to experience Namin obtaining that success that she worked so hard for, I wanted to see Jisun make a difference and find her place, and for Sunam to grow more confident. The summary-like end left me feeling disappointed and like none of what happened really mattered.

Unfortunately, I didn't connect with this book at all. The writing felt wooden, I wasn't interested in the characters and I abandoned it after 50 pages. I received a free copy of the book from the publisher.

The decisions you make in your life have a lasting impact on you, as well as those around you. For two young women in Seoul, their lives, once closely connected, divert drastically due to the decisions they've made in Yoojin Grace Wuertz's Everything Belongs to Us. During 1978 in Seoul, two friends, who come from very different social strata, Jisun and Namin, are studying at the nation's top university but with disparate goals in mind for their lives. Jisun comes from privilege and wants nothing to do with her father's empire, instead wanting to pursue activism to better the lives of the common people during the current sociopolitical climate. Namin comes from poverty and with her remarkable intelligence works incredibly hard to earn a medical degree to bring security and success to her family. After meeting an ambitious young man, Sunam, the girls' lives drastically change from the decisions they make in their relationships with each other and with Sunam. It took a little while to become invested in the characters and the story, but once it caught my attention about halfway through, I wanted to learn what the outcome would be, although I was ultimately let down by the lackluster ending. Perhaps the lag in the first half came from the moderately roving point of view narrative style that was used to connect all the characters together, but seemed to meander more than anything else. This narrative serves as a reminder of the massive consequences that can come from your actions and the actions of those around you, even if these consequences might not directly impact you. With not many stories focused on Korean culture in the forefront of American's minds, there were lots of possibilities for this story to explore and educate; instead, it focused more on melodramatic relationships that could have been set almost anywhere, but it was still a decent read. Overall, I'd give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Namin and Jisun are college students at Seoul National University navigating the shifting cultural and political landscape of 1970s South Korea. They seem an unlikely pair of friends, Jisun is the daughter of a wealthy and powerful businessman and Namin comes from a poor family trying to make ends meet, and their friendship starts to strain under their different backgrounds and goals. Jisun is indifferent to her family and wealth and searches for something to spark a passion inside her. She finds it in various activist movements and throws herself into factory work and protests. Namin is not impressed - it's easy to play at such work when it's not your life. Namin knows that life intimately as her parents run a food cart and her sister works in a factory and she is doing everything she can to leave that life behind. She's a serious student intent on becoming a doctor and to help her dreams she seeks entry into an exclusive, elitist club called The Circle. This is where she meets Sunam and soon his life is intertwined with the two friends. I liked reading a book set in Korea and following the stories of these characters, even if I didn't always find the plot engaging. The story felt aimless at times and I didn't have any special attachment to the characters. But overall I liked it and would rate this 3.5/5 stars.

Choppy, uneven---those are the terms that come to mind after reading EVERYTHING BELONGS TO US. So much potential for an intriguing story, but then it devolves into an ordinary 'love gone astray' melodrama... The author presents South Korea in the late 1970s, using a rich girl, a poor girl, and a well-off young man to examine the social inequalities that churned below the surface. Shortly before the country's leader was assassinated, actually, and doesn't that sound like a tale filled with potential for conflict? That is not the story that Ms. Wuertz chooses to tell. Instead, she uses the social issues to paint the backdrop of what is a very ordinary story of young people meeting at university, falling in love, and then falling out of love. Think love triangle sort of thing, with financial incentives looming ahead. It was hard to read the book through because it dragged in places. The prose is elegant, but the storytelling ability needs a bit more work.

Seoul Korea in the 1970’s was an interesting time period for Wuertz to choose for her novel “Everything Belongs to Us” and I was excited to read it even though the title didn’t grab me. She started out strong, but soon the plot became predictable and several relationships and plot lines just disappeared altogether. Wuertz had an opportunity to really give readers a history and culture lesson through the lives of a set of interesting and complex characters; however, this time she was slightly off the mark.

"Everything Belongs To Us" is a satisfying character description of young South Korean university students and friends that strive to make something better of their lives. Narrated through their multiple points of view, Wuertz provides insight into their struggles, desires, hopes, and tragedies. Her writing is explicitly clear describing the unfolding events in the story and the characters are well formed and relatable, although I was left wanting more insight into the characters later development at the end. Wuertz introduced many political and moral themes, however they did not seem to be followed through to the end. I was left with many questions upon finishing this book, including what happened to the factory protestors, did the "business" relationship between Sunam and Jisun's father just end, and what happened to Namin's sister after all? Regardless of these questions, the book is an honest description of love, loyalty, and betrayal among friends.

What Wuertz does is immerse the reader in Seoul in the '70s, giving a real sense of the struggles in society. The three main characters come from different social classes and find themselves drawn to each other. The two heroines are complex and Wuertz adeptly provides depth to these characters. I found myself really getting behind Jisun and her struggles and liking Namin less and less as the novel went on. The novel seems to have wrapped up rather quickly at the end, leaving a bit to be desired; perhaps better to have left a bit unsaid and left room for a follow up novel. A quick, easy read.

I loved the style and dynamic of this book. I learned a lot about Korea and the political landscape while gaining interest in the unique viewpoint and story of each character. Namin and Jisun come from different sides of the spectrum and are drawn together by their differences. It is the same differences that ultimately tear them and their relationship apart. I would be interested in reading more writing by this author.

Thank You Random House for giving me the opportunity to read this amazing book, I’d like to start by saying that the cover could use some work, I really dislike it, but I’m not judging this book by it. I felt that this book was compelling, and engaging, I’ve read it so fast, it is a debut novel by Yoojin and it starts in the best way. I’ve loved the characters they, and I don’t want to spoil much about it. This story follows a women protest in Seoul, and on the third day of that protest everything changes. It is so realistic and portraits so well Korea, with a dialogue so well structured for the 70’s. The writing was amazing.I have to say that Jisun is my favorite character, I highly recommend this book!

 


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