Miles from Nowhere
Present-day New York City is incomparable to its former seedy and dismal self. It was a city of survival up through the eighties, and as Nami Mun shows in her novel, Miles from Nowhere, people were either crushed by the city or driven to great lengths to make it through the day.
The story follows the teenage Joon, the daughter of a Korean family who immigrated to New York. It’s the early 1980's, and Joon’s father eventually leaves the family for good as he struggles to adapt to a new county. This causes Joon’s mother to mentally breakdown to the point where she becomes emotionally unavailable to her child. From there, the young Joon has limited choices: stay and take care of her mother or leave. Joon chooses the streets of New York and what follows is an at times tragic and at other times laughable yet heroic journey of survival in a big city that seems to loves no one.
What shines about Miles from Nowhere are the characters who will grip at your heart. The other teenage runaways that Joon befriends and falls in love with each have their own dark history yet still summon the courage to leave a heartbreaking situation in an effort to save themselves. From Knowledge, a smart and ethical-in-her-own way girl, to Lana, a transvestite working at a men’s club, we are left to imagine what must have happened in their lives for them to be in their position when Joon meets them.
Over the course of six years, Joon begins supporting herself first by working at a men’s club and then as a prostitute. She later struggles to live clean with average jobs, including selling Avon and working in a nursing home. Joon inevitably falls into drugs, gets pregnant and seeks an abortion, but throughout it all, she strives to attain a better version of herself, whether it is going to drug counseling, keeping a respectable job or even staying in a troubled relationship to another drug addict.
This entrancing story by Mun ultimately makes us ask and imagine what would teenagers have to go through to abandon whatever semblance of normal life they once had in favor or living on the streets.