Yoon’s prose is spare and beautiful. He can describe the sea more ways than seem possible without losing freshness, and his characters’ world is often quietly dazzling ... Yoon’s narratives face the interesting challenge of relying on characters who don’t exactly believe in action ... While a number of people here are tormented by longing — an orphan is sure that more than one man is the lost boy she once took care of; a young girl keeps seeing a ghostly woman in the snow wearing a dress like her dead mother’s — their yearnings result more in frustrated gestures than in actual drama ... Yet the beauty of these stories is precisely in their reserve: they are mild and stark at the same time ... The work of a large and quiet talent.
...remote shores can be ideal test sites for the vagaries of human behavior. Utopian, dystopian, fantastic or mundane, they rise from the sea less as landmasses than as literary metaphors. Yet the island in Paul Yoon’s Once the Shore manages to be both: a rich, fully realized place and a common thread that links its residents through history and time ... Yoon is never a cruel writer. Even in their sadness, his stories are tender, lucent and vital. They unfold on every corner of the island, across the seasons ... Yoon’s prose has a clear-cut beauty with traces, at times, of folkloric cadence ... Yoon has described a perfect arc of time and geography, a whole water-bound world.
I was startled by how beautifully Yoon writes about the horrifying: a bereaved woman repeatedly runs full force towards a cliff, stopping short of the edge in 'So That They Do Not Hear Us,' a person is consumed by flames in 'Faces to the Fire,' and a couple lovingly collects human body parts floating in the ocean in 'Among the Wreckage' ... Characters from different social classes and historical moments move through the stories, ranging from a seawoman in her sixties to a young girl whose mother has just died to a middle-aged husband evaluating his life. Yoon convincingly inhabits these disparate characters, some of whom move through more than one story as the author shifts people and areas of the island into the background or foreground depending on the story ... Yoon somehow leaves space for his characters to experience dignity, or momentary pleasure, in the lives that are suggested beyond each story’s end.
Yoon, a New York City-born Korean American, writes with such sparse precision as to create a visceral portrait of lost souls, each searching in worlds both living and dead ... In spite of all that is missing for his characters, Yoon's writing results in a fully formed, deftly executed debut. The lost lives, while heartbreaking, prove illuminating in Yoon's made-up world, so convincing and real. To read is truly to believe.
Yoon's collection of eight richly textured stories explore the themes of family, lost love, silence, alienation and the effects of the Japanese occupation and the Korean War on the poor communities of a small South Korean island ... Yoon's stories are introspective and tender while also painting with bold strokes the details of the lives of the invisible.