... a tightly integrated collection of six masterfully written stories ... Yoon’s perspective shifts nimbly from one teenager to another, catching the currents of delight, confusion or terror flitting through this 'orbit of chaos' ... We know, of course, how impossible that modest dream is for these three young friends working in the most dangerous spot on Earth. But Yoon’s narration is so closely pared, so free of excess drama that when violence rips through these lives, it feels especially shocking. In a sense, he’s re-created the psychological experience of battle: the weird interludes of happiness and boredom suddenly shattered by incomprehensible disorder ... Individually, the chapters exercise hypnotic intensity, but the overall effect is even more profound. With his panoramic vision of the displacements of war, Yoon reminds us of the people never considered or accounted for in the halls of power ... Yoon makes us care deeply about these adolescents and what happens to them. For all that he eventually reveals, some details are forever dropped between the shifting plates of survivors’ memories. That’s cruel, but like everything else here, entirely true to the lives of people scattered by war.
... richly layered ... simple explanations give way to deep nuance ... Throughout the novel, beauty and violence coexist in a universe that seems by turns cruel and wondrous ... Alisak is haunted by the loss of his friends and his homeland and the loose ends of his life, and from his story and that of the other characters, Yoon has stitched an intense meditation on the devastating nature of war and displacement.
There have been many great books about the Vietnam War, from many different perspectives...But I have never before read one I would describe as quiet and graceful ... Yoon’s artfully orchestrated narrative illuminates this loudest, harshest, most chaotic of situations with restraint and elegance, finding and tracing an emotional thread that weaves the story into the reader’s heart ... This unique work of historical fiction could not be more timely, or more timeless.
Yoon’s greatest skill lies in crafting subtle moments that underline the strange and specific sadness inherent to trauma ... more than a narrative of coming of age during wartime ... As the book flips between perspectives, each character is catapulted back, time and again, to crushingly detailed memories of their shared youth ... [Yoon's] decision to begin the book when the characters are young proves devastating and essential. In understated prose, he shows how they grow out of their teenage voices amid their fight for survival. As children around the world continue to grow up surrounded by violence and war, authors like Yoon seek to understand how experiencing those horrors shapes the adults they eventually become. And in Run Me to Earth, those horrors are scattered like unexploded bombs, waiting to go off at any time.
Yoon...is a master of subtle storytelling; he often leaves powerful emotions unexpressed, violent acts undetailed. Much happens in the empty spaces on the page. News that the prisoners have been tortured is delivered secondhand, but the pain they suffer is as indelible as the teens’ friendship once was ... These lives cast a shadow, and force a question: What is the result of American military intervention but the fracturing of a whole, injustice, erasure? For these characters, at least, there is the story. And in a story, there is comfort.
Yoon shatters his story into a half dozen pieces as the physical bonds between his protagonists are shattered by the ongoing war. Each piece forms an elegant short story, linked to others by a hope, extending over decades, of reconnection ... Yoon’s craft was already evident in his 2013 novel Snow Hunters...Run Me to Earth displays the same feel for language—English, yes, but empathy for other languages, whether the Brazilian Portuguese of Snow Hunters or the French which serves a touchstone in the recent novel—and the same fascination with the incongruous ... But in Run Me to Earth, Yoon has also put structure to the service of style. Each of the chapters a story, the narrative swaps back and forth between decades and continents, separating and recombining the characters, changing viewpoints and focus ... Throughout it all, the language is spare. But Yoon has the ability to conjure up an entire world in a phrase ... In the images it conjures up, the language, despite its spareness, can be unexpectedly cinematic, albeit in a somewhat grainy, natural lighting, art film sort of way.
...a pensive tale of war’s savage toll on innocents during and after the conflict ... a melancholy reminder that valor isn’t limited to those who win medals on the battlefield, and that to many noncombatants, the question isn’t who wins or loses, but whether one will survive the madness.
... gripping ... Yoon writes with a soft, measured hand. He calmly builds memorable scenes even when events turn violent ... With the Indochina wars of the 1960s and 1970s darkening his canvas, Yoon brightens the mix with riveting colors of youth and innocence — even as they are being lost.
... powerful and affecting ... A master of understatement, Yoon weaves a heartbreaking story of violence and loss in the unadorned prose of a fairytale or parable. Eschewing hyperbole and cheap sensationalism, he captures the boring, granular details and small moments of harrowing, highly dramatic scenes ... Through the bleakness of the story, and against all odds, Yoon somehow weaves a hopeful tale of redemption by the simple act of survival.
In a sense, Yoon presents war as something of a major character that influences nearly everything from life in all its forms: human, plant, animal, to nature itself. The obscenity—the killing, torture, and bombings—are mostly accomplished off-page or as half scenes, yet the revenge-killing of an interrogator is rather graphic ... The multiple viewpoints in different eras sometimes include embedded flash-backs and flash-forwards that can be a challenge to follow. But succeeding chapters from Khit’s viewpoint help clarify the timeline ... Yoon’s writing, as in his earlier work, is graceful and understated, and amazingly enough that understated grace truthfully depicts the obscenity of war.
It is, in some fashion, an act of archeology, an attempt to comprehend a recent history that nevertheless feels as distant as the Iron Age ... Yoon writes with precision and understatement, maybe the only way you can render a world in which bombs loom overhead and lurk underfoot ... isn’t trying to educate or do the work of scholars and teachers; it has its own agenda. Art cannot supplant history, but it can amplify it.
Yoon, ever the elegant and penetrating writer, coolly delivers a devastating sense of what it’s like to be in the midst of war ... Their individual stories must be read (and not revealed here), but suffice to say that they don’t reconnect in that Hollywood way readers will want, which makes for a better and more arresting book ... Essential reading as Americans continue to grapple with our involvement in Asia and for anyone interested in top-drawer literature.
Yoon again exemplifies his unparalleled ability to create a quietly spectacular narrative that reveals the unfathomable worst and unwavering best of humanity; the result here provides mesmerizing gratification.
In another life, Yoon might have been a sculptor, carving the excess off his creations until they're perfect. In this decades-spanning examination of the survival of three orphans with the bad luck to have been born into the ruins of a battlefield, he's stretching his abilities while still writing with deliberate, almost vigilant care ... The language is as elegant and understated as always ... Yoon’s imaginative prose and affection for his characters make the story larger than a look at the ways people survive. We see a bunch of kids working together to make it out alive, and then Yoon's time jumps show that life goes on after survival and that there's meaning there, too. The characters get what we all get in the end, if we're lucky: a life, with all the joys and heartbreak that come with that ... Another masterpiece in miniature about the unpredictable directions a life can take.
... [a] sparely written gem ... Yoon masterfully weaves their divergent story lines, unveiling the different trajectories of their lives ... Yoon’s eloquent, sensitive character study of Alisak, who deeply misses his friends well into his 60s, illustrates how the horrors of the past can linger, no matter how far one travels from the source. This is a finely wrought tale about courage and endurance.