“This stunning debut follows a young man who, possessed by his grandfather’s ghost, attempts to cross the Demilitarized Zone in North Korea. A remarkable — and at turns hilarious — story of family, grief, and intergenerational trauma.”
— Lindsay Lynch, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN
Set in the months leading up to the 2018 nuclear missile false alarm, a Korean American family living in Hawai'i faces the fallout of their eldest son's attempt to run across the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea in this "fresh, inventive, and at times, hilarious novel" (Kaui Hart Hemmings, author of The Descendants)
Things are looking up for Mr. and Mrs. Cho. Their dream of franchising their Korean plate lunch restaurants across Hawaiʻi seems within reach after a visit from Guy Fieri boosts the profile of Cho’s Delicatessen. Their daughter, Grace, is busy finishing her senior year of college and working for her parents, while her older brother, Jacob, just moved to Seoul to teach English. But when a viral video shows Jacob trying—and failing—to cross the Korean demilitarized zone, nothing can protect the family from suspicion and the restaurant from waning sales.
No one knows that Jacob has been possessed by the ghost of his lost grandfather, who feverishly wishes to cross the divide and find the family he left behind in the north. As Jacob is detained by the South Korean government, Mr. and Mrs. Cho fear their son won’t ever be able to return home, and Grace gets more and more stoned as she negotiates her family’s undoing. Struggling with what they don’t know about themselves and one another, the Chos must confront the separations that have endured in their family for decades.
Set in the months leading up to the 2018 false missile alert in Hawaiʻi, Joseph Han’s profoundly funny and strikingly beautiful debut novel is an offering that aches with histories inherited and reunions missed, asking how we heal in the face of what we forget and who we remember.
About the Author
JOSEPH HAN was born in Korea and raised in Hawaiʻi. He is an editor for the West region of Joyland magazine, and a recipient of a Kundiman Fellowship in Fiction. His writing has appeared in Nat.Brut, Catapult, Pleiades Magazine, Platypus Press Shorts, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He received a PhD in English and Creative Writing at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. He is currently living in Honolulu.
A BuzzFeed Most Anticipated Book of the Year & Book You've Got to Read this Summer An LGBTQ Reads Most Anticipated Book BookRiot, A Best Summer Read of 2022 The Millions, A Most Anticipated Book of the Year Goodreads, A Most Anticipated Debut Novel of 2022 A Debutiful Best Book of the Year
"You’d have to visit Cirque du Soleil to see someone juggle as much as Han with such effortless dexterity and tenderness . . . Rhythmic and hypnotic; it captivates from the very first page and gracefully conveys the loss and the longing the family experiences." —The New York Times Book Review
"[A] gorgeous debut." —Time
"Inventive." —A Washington Post Book to Read This Summer
"An inventive debut . . . In Nuclear Family, through laughter and wonder and intriguing complexity, Han makes us pay attention." —Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times
"The unalloyed genius of Nuclear Family is not just its use of but improvement on the venerable ghost story." —Tim Pfaff, Bay Area Reporter
"This bizarre comic plot showcases Han’s uncanny ability to expose in a fresh way the battles inherent in preserving a complicated cultural identity." —Connie Ogle, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
"A richly imagined, era-straddling saga exploring several generations of a Korean American clan." —Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
"There are many books out there that fuse serious social and cultural issues with comedy, folkloric elements with contemporary style, accessible prose with intellectual rigor. To do it all in this debut novel so seamlessly is Joseph Han’s gift . . . This imaginative and propulsive story proves that Han is a literary talent to watch." —Matt Ortile, Esquire
"This book is captivating from beginning to end." —Sarah Neilson, Shondaland
"An entrancing, boldly satisfying debut from Joseph Han. It feels both massive, grand on a global scale, and also small and intimate; a deeply personal story of a family trying to keep their small business open when their son suddenly causes the eyes of the world to turn on them. Nuclear Family is a knock-out." —Jeffrey Masters, The Advocate, One of the Best Books of The Year
"Nuclear Family is also a warm and, most importantly, funny read. There is no melodrama; there is no tragedy beyond what we would expect from real people going through the tough parts of life . . . Nuclear Family invites those who are unfamiliar but are willing to explore its world with an open heart. It is a book that exemplifies what is unique and special about Korean American literature outside of Korean or American literature, and one that will haunt the reader for a while." —Minyoung Lee, Chicago Review of Books
"Beautifully strange . . . Han tells a moving and specific story about [. . .] symbolic possessions—how violence possesses bodies, how history possesses the present and how a person’s stories remain alive in their descendants, even if those stories go unspoken . . . Darkly funny, delightfully surprising and with a sprinkling of unusual formatting that reveals hidden subplots, Han’s debut bears witness to the brutal realities of war and imperialism while honoring the many kinds of magic that exist in the world." —Laura Sackton, BookPage
"Such a beautiful, original book . . . It’s a gorgeous meditation on loss and memory, a painful and haunting novel about the legacies of war and the violence of separation." —Laura Sackton, Book Riot
"Han’s powerful book examines both the borders put up in the world and the ones we surround ourselves with to protect ourselves in this memorable and innovative debut" —Adam Vitcavage, Debutiful
"Tragic, funny, and strikingly ingenious, Han’s prodigious debut is a spectacular achievement. Seamlessly dovetailed into his sublime multigenerational saga are pivotal history lessons, anti-colonial denunciations, political slaps. For Korean speakers, Han’s brilliant linguistic acrobatics will prove particularly enlightening (Jeong is a homophone for jeong, something akin to empathic connection) and shrewdly entertaining." —Booklist (starred review)
“Han makes a smashing debut with this stunning take on identity and migration told through the multiple perspectives of a Korean American family . . . [W]hile it’s heartbreaking, it’s also sharply hilarious . . . This is a master class from a brilliant new voice.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Han’s surreal fantasy, sometimes devolving into slapstick, contains a serious critique: of the marginalization of Korean immigrants; of the plight of families separated by a politically contrived border; of shattered lives, pain, and guilt. A raucous and adroit debut." —Kirkus Reviews
“One of the most original novels I’ve read in the last decade. Nuclear Family imagines a story of the lives of our Korean ancestors in the present tense, their ghost life as full of urgency, politics, and complication as our own. How far does the separation at the thirty-eighth parallel go?, Han asks. All the way into the land of spirit, a wound for the living and the dead.” —Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
“Nuclear Family is a world unto itself: Joseph Han's novel is heartfelt and propulsive, immersing readers in a narrative whose questions of family, borders, queerness, and forgiveness constantly surprises and astounds. Han's prose is remarkable—both deadpan and compassionate—juggling the stories that we're told with the ones we seek to tell ourselves. Nuclear Family is a singular work, and Han's writing is truly special.” —Bryan Washington, author of Memorial and Lot
“A haunting, tender, potent, and frequently very funny testament to the pull of history and the tenacity of ghosts. Spellbinding and original, Nuclear Family is a novel to hold close.” —R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
"Nuclear Family is a rollicking, immersive family saga unlike any you've read before, a novel that explores the intergenerational legacy of trauma—and what it costs us to both survive and remember—while also delivering more than its share of laughs. Deft, candid, and perpetually surprising, Joseph Han's debut is one not to miss." —Nicole Chung, author of All You Can Ever Know
"Nuclear Family manages to capture Hawaiʻi, North and South Korea, Guy Fieri and family-run delicatessens, teenage gloom, the weight of our family and ancestors, and settle them all onto an appetizing plate. A fresh, inventive, and at times, hilarious novel." —Kaui Hart Hemmings, author of The Descendants