Secondhand World

  • Writer
    Katherine Min
  • Country
  • Publisher
  • Published Year
  • Genre
    Literature - English and American literatures - Fiction


Isadora Myung Hee Sohn--Isa--has just spent ninety-five days in a pediatric burn unit in Albany, New York, recovering from the fire that burned her house and killed her parents. Moving back in time, Secondhand World casts a devastating spell, revealing the circumstances that led to the fire.

Growing up the daughter of Korean-born parents, Isa is bullied by American classmates and barely noticed at home. Seeking the company of another outsider, Isa falls in love with Hero, an albino boy. But what starts out as a small teenage rebellion sets in motion a series of events and revelations Isa never could have foreseen.

From the Trade Paperback edition.


  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 15, 2006
    Isolation pervades Min's haunting debut, a depiction of a tragedy-beset Korean-American family living in upstate New York during the aftermath of the Korean War. As the book opens, Isadora (Isa) Myung Hee Sohn, 18, has just spent 95 days on a pediatric burn unit in Albany, N.Y., following a fire that destroyed her house and killed her parents. The backstory—a swirling, textured and beautifully detailed web of perception that records a divided life—comprises the rest of the novel. Isa's mother is a beauty from a wealthy family in Seoul; her father is a former South Korean soldier, now a rigid science professor. Brother Stephen died in an accident as a toddler; her parents' extreme grief and subsequent neglect leave Isa herself feeling "insubstantial, a transparency that hung like a scrim between them and the child they had lost." The teenage Isa—angst-ridden, disaffected and subject to racial prejudice at school—escapes into the arms of an albino outsider named "Hero" in a sequence that doesn't fit. But when Isa finds out that her mother is having an affair, her ensuing actions destroy her parents' carefully constructed semblance of happily married life. The plot lurches and meanders, but Min's rendering of an outsider family's tight-knit alienation is spot-on.

  • The Buffalo News

    "Told in achingly evocative prose that lingers in your consciousness. . . . Raw, emotionally urgent and peppered with acute detail." --Los Angeles Times"Engaging both history and the needs of the passionate self, Secondhand World reveals an exquisite and powerful imagination." --The Providence Journal"Leaves the reader breathless with questions about one's own capacity to forgive." --Ms."Katherine Min gives such celebrated writers as Louise Erdrich, Zadie Smith and Amy Tan a run for their money. Exquisitely written, wrenchingly imagined, Secondhand World will stand your hair on end."