by Jung Yun
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Pub Date 09 Nov 2021 | Archive Date 23 Nov 2021
A New York Times Editors' Choice Book
From the critically-acclaimed author of Shelter, an unflinching portrayal of a woman trying to come to terms with the ghosts of her past and the tortured realities of a deeply divided America.
Elinor Hanson, a forty-something former model, is struggling to reinvent herself as a freelance writer when she receives an unexpected assignment. Her mentor from grad school offers her a chance to write for a prestigious magazine about the Bakken oil boom in North Dakota. Elinor grew up near the Bakken, raised by an overbearing father and a distant Korean mother who met and married when he was stationed overseas. After decades away from home, Elinor returns to a landscape she hardly recognizes, overrun by tens of thousands of newcomers.
Surrounded by roughnecks seeking their fortunes in oil and long-time residents worried about their changing community, Elinor experiences a profound sense of alienation and grief. She rages at the unrelenting male gaze, the locals who still see her as a foreigner, and the memories of her family’s estrangement after her mother decided to escape her unhappy marriage, leaving Elinor and her sister behind. The longer she pursues this potentially career-altering assignment, the more her past intertwines with the story she’s trying to tell, revealing disturbing new realities that will forever change her and the way she looks at the world.
With spare and graceful prose, Jung Yun's O Beautiful presents an immersive portrait of a community rife with tensions and competing interests, and one woman’s attempts to reconcile her anger with her love of a beautiful, but troubled land.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 119 members
O, Beautiful takes us into the mind of Elinor Hansen, a beautiful journalist seeking change in her own life. Elinor is an intelligent women with a chip on her shoulder from years of being a women in a man’s world. Abused, belittled, catcalled, and done with it all, but not sure what to do about it, she returns to North Dakota, where she grew up, to report on a booming oil town. The novel takes us through her pain, anger, and growth as she uncovers and discovers a world that’s been there all along but never explored. This is definitely her story. It is a character driven, heavily insightful book.
The opening scene of this novel was so familiar, it was perfect. I felt like I had been in the exact situation in my life, I bet most women would relate. Throughout the book, I was connected with her anger at the way the world “just is”.
I really enjoyed this book and am giving it 5 stars. The prose is excellent! However, I don’t think it’s one for everyone. It’s slow-paced and there is a lot going on. Elinor is in a way coming to terms with how she has been abused, the trauma of her childhood, and the dissonance of being a independent modern female yet living with the experiences of sexism and misogyny. I found her deep and relatable, despite her cynicism and anger, or maybe because of it. This is a great piece of literature.
Elinor returns to North Dakota where she grew up when her father was stationed there with the Air Force. Throughout her life she has felt like an outsider due to her mixed parentage, but had enjoyed a career in New York, modeling, and decided to reinvent herself as a writer, earning a degree and being given the opportunity to write an article about the changes wrought by the oil boom to her home state. What ensues is a different story than the one she'd originally set out to do. O, Beautiful is told exclusively through her experiences, her shift in focus and her choices that result in her changing the direction of her research. Jung Yun's second book is if anything better than her first, exploring what it means to be a woman seeming to be fortunate but whose reality is more complex when her intelligence is judged as secondary to her looks.
This was a compelling portrait of a budding journalist trying to find an angle for a story on a booming oil town. At times, the novel took on the feel of an investigative piece; I was drawn in by how the narrator found sources, asked questions, and made sense of the emerging story. At other times, it was a complex glimpse into the narrator’s life and the events and attitudes that shaped who she is, notably the separation of her Korean-American mom from her strict, white, American military dad. Ultimately, the story is about classism, racism, sexism, and power and how women fight their way through a culture that is both dangerous to them and dismissive of them.
OMG, so much love for this book. I give it 20 million stars.
The story of a Korean-American woman who goes to North Dakota to write an article about the oil boom and ends up being immersed in a different kind of story.
Themes include: racism, classism, sexism, #metoo, climate change, and more.
Discussed on episode 135 and 136 of the Book Cougars podcast.
Author Spotlight with Jung Yun on an upcoming episode.