Long For This World

Simon & Schuster has just published Long for This World, a novel by Gotham teacher Sonya Chung.

When Jane, a war photographer, returns to New York after recovering from a bombing injury in Baghdad, she discovers that her father has left her mother and headed for his homeland, South Korea. Jane follows him there, where father and daughter take refuge from their demons while staying with relatives with problems of their own.

Publishers Weekly says, “Chung portrays with precision and grace each character’s struggle to find his or her place in the family and in the world.”
Here’s a passage from early in the story:
It was a small explosion, relatively speaking. A handmade bomb, one of many planted simultaneously in civilian areas around the city to keep the insurgency at a steady clip. A reminder, a statement. Still, we were close enough. It was all noise and force, I couldn’t tell you a thing about who was there, what the car looked like, or how far away we were. We were inside of it as far as I could tell. All space collapsed; and then we were thrown, a million miles, or more. The word blast had never meant anything in particular to me before. In my line of work, it’s a word as common as day, inert as milk. Now, for me, it has a singular meaning, specific to that moment...

Ali came to see me almost every day during my weeks in recovery.  The burns were the worst and took the longest to heal, especially my scalp and arms. Ali did not flinch at the sight of me—my shaved head, pocked with scabs and abrasions; my swollen, scraped-up face, half-wrapped in gauze to absorb the fluids that drained and oozed before healing could begin. Nor did he seem to experience any particular post-traumatic stress; he was focused and coherent. This was his world, after all, it was all he knew. My own state of mind, on the other hand, was both foggy and flinchy—like a strobe light in a smoky club...

My recovery was slow, and boring. I did not have a TV in my room, but there was one down the hall in the patient lounge, where we all—strangers in war, compatriots in trauma—tuned in daily to “The Family Ahmad,” a new soap opera, Iraq’s first, to which nearly all Iraqi televisions (civilian and military alike) had been tuned since its premiere. The big wedding, the one viewers had anticipated for weeks, between a high government minister’s daughter and a handsome soldier from a lower class, had just been ruined by an unannounced weapons search by American troops. The Americans were portrayed alternately as bullies and buffoons; the patients seemed to enjoy this especially.

After they discharged me from the hospital, I took a week to just sleep, take off-assignment black & whites with my Leica, and sit around in cafes smoking and bullshitting with other journalists. Listening to their grisly bravado was strangely comforting. Some of them knew what had happened, but they didn’t speak of it other than a few kind words about Gerald; and thankfully, they didn’t tip-toe around me.

I checked in with Julian in Paris to let him know I was up and around but would be unavailable for an undetermined period of time. When I was ready, I sent an email to Henry back in New York and bought a one-way ticket. I was on my way home.

I was returning with the idea of rest in mind—an idea that in truth sounded to me like a lot of work.  But I was longing, I was ready, for a clearing. Everything I’d left behind had begun to back up on me, and I suppose I knew that at some point this time, this readiness, would come.

As I turned toward home, an image formed in my mind—of me hacking through a tall thick brush, methodical and focused; the scythe a gracefully-curved steal beauty, deadly sharp, solid and heavy in my hand.

But those notions and images scattered by the time I actually got home. I had a premonition of this—a vague tingling somewhere behind my heart, a nervous quickening as the plane touched down at JFK airport—of something awaiting me, something unforeseen and yet inevitable. And what I’ve come home to is turning out to be a different kind of explosion.

Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster. For more information on Sonya and her book, visit sonyachung.com. Find the book online at bn.com.