Sonya Chung’s newest novel The Loved Ones is an intense look into love, loss, guilt, and reconciliation. Two families who share a last name find their lives intersecting. Charles Lee is the African American father in a biracial family. Hannah Lee is the daughter of Korean immigrants who babysits for his children and is present when a devastating event strikes the family. But The Loved Ones is not a simple linear tale, but rather jumps through time exploring inter-generational experiences and decisions. It is breathtaking to the end.
Chung explores desire and responsibility, reconciliation and its absence, race, family, and of course, love. She delves deep into the details that drive her characters, creating moving and nuanced portraits not only of the fulcrum relationship between Charles and Hannah, but of their families as well. Her punctuated writing style is eloquent and enthralling. It’s a novel that’s difficult to summarize, but well worth the read, as much about the beauty and heartbreak of the process as any kind of end or moral.
Particularly noteworthy is the relationship between Hannah’s parents. In the early pages, the two garden, communicating in an unspoken language where one does not always know but understands. Capturing the kind of stoicism that Hannah sees in her parents, it yet unveils unexplored depths. In later pages, the story behind their meeting and marriage is detailed, revealing a passion simmering below, and a tale of family, exile, and belonging that stretches back to Korea. But none of this comes to the readers all at once, and instead is deftly interwoven with the story of the other Lee family–one that also stretches back to Korea. Uniting them all is Chung’s deeply honest ability to capture human emotions and thoughts, flawed and true.
Chong-ho was content with his own lot: he had chosen love and admitted its sorrows, but what good is such love, the heart’s pure fervor, if only the lovers can live in its depths?
The Loved Ones is a remarkable work, that grasps at the complications of humanity, of decisions and fate, and of the unmaking and remaking of your loved ones.