A review of Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety by Ann Y.K. Choi
BY NIKKI CARTER
“For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.”
― Barack Obama
Where does one’s loyalty lie? Is it the place where he or she is born, or where one resides? Where is home? Thousands of immigrants journey to Canadian soil each year, asking themselves a similar set of questions. Of these, one of the most challenging questions several immigrants struggle with: am I Canadian, other, or both?
In Ann Y.K. Choi’s debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, Choi recounts the immigrant experience of living in Canada and excels at imparting to readers the hardships many immigrant families share.
The novel focuses on the growth and development of teenaged Mary, – or Yu-Rhee, her Korean name – a first generation immigrant to Canada. Mary immigrates to Toronto with her parents and her brother, all occupying a small apartment above the convenience store they own. As an aspiring writer attempting to cope with the difficulties surrounding her, Mary struggles with merging Korean ideals with her newfound Canadian identity. Through Choi’s use of first person, readers are able to join Mary as she questions and explores topics in faith, sexuality, love and loss.
This bildungsroman is set in Toronto in the 1980s and noticeably so, with mentions of Queen Street, the CN Tower and the Bloor Viaduct maintaining an authentic Torontonian atmosphere. Although there are several parallels to Choi’s life throughout the book, this work of fiction mimics many immigrant stories and experiences. Ultimately, this novel explores the importance of sacrifice, the bond between families, and sticking together through difficult times.
What really allows this book shine its realism, especially in regards to character development. Mary’s growth throughout the novel is remarkably authentic. A prominent shift in identity occurs when Mary visits her family in Korea. When her friend Joon-Ho remarks that she must be excited to go home, she realizes she does not know where ‘home’ is: “It wasn’t what he said, but how he said it, implying I was merely a visitor in the country. The word home hung in the air, and I remembered Erin and her remark about going back home, to Korea.” Mary’s personality is consistently molded by the experiences and people she encounters, resulting in a transformation that is both relevant and genuine.
Through her protagonist, Choi is able to give a voice to several different Korean women’s experiences. The narrative voice is simply written, analogous to an adolescent’s vernacular and train of thought. Scenes that are difficult to digest are written in poignant tones that allow readers to sympathize with the protagonist.
What sets this book apart is the fact that Choi’s characters are able to discuss a topic that is rarely examined: invisibility. There are few prominent Canadian- Korean novels written and even fewer prominent Canadian- Korean novelists. Similarly, this novel explores the realism of being invisible business owners, yet visible minorities. At one point in the novel, Mary’s mother tells her, “It’s always black and white in Canada. The Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, anyone from Asia are the true invisibles”. Through this and other quotes, Choi is able to provide a breathtakingly accurate perception of what it is to feel alone in the presence of many.
Choi excels in her storytelling mostly because of her rawness and accuracy. This Toronto-based writer, teacher and Canadian immigrant from Korea has a first hand experience of finding her own Canadian identity. Choi states in an interview with CBC, “It took three generations in Canada to get to that sense where my daughter feels part of the Canadian society, whereas sometimes I still feel like a visitor”. This book not only explains the difficulties parents face in providing a suitable life for their children, but thanks them for their hardship as well; this novel is a thank you card to the immigrants who brought us here.
With her heart-wrenching yet simplistic prose, this novel is perfect for Canadian adolescents to read to understand privilege and hardship simultaneously; it acts as reminder of the drive to succeed, graduate and belong that fills many adolescent minds.
Choi allows readers to recognize the large role parents have in creating a home for their children and the difficulties they often conceal. No matter where one resides, home is where there is a sense of belonging and love- and it is possible to have more than one.