Jan 14

Book Review: My Korean Deli

My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience StoreMy Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store by Ben Ryder Howe

I got this from audible, so my enjoyment was influenced by the fact that it had an excellent narrator, who made each voice distinct. Maybe it was in part because he had a lot to work with. This memoir features a varied cast of people, from the WASPish author/protagonist, his high-achieving Korean wife Gab and his mother-in-law Kay, his upper crust editor boss George, his mentor/employee Dwayne, and of course the customers of the Brooklyn deli/convenience store.
The story begins when Ben, the editor of an old school literary journal and his wife Gab, a corporate lawyer, decide to buy a convenience store for Gab’s mother Kay, who misses the bakery she once ran in Korea. The goal is that once the deli starts earning money, they can move out of his in-law’s basement in their house in Staten island. Their struggle begins when they have difficulty even finding a deli to purchase. Then there are issues with the sale. Then the issues with the store begin. Unpaid back taxes. Getting caught selling cigarettes to minors in a sting. Flak over price increases. Storms. Blackouts, and then predictably, a robbery.

The narrator starts out not very sympathetic. He’s an entitled, not-very-competent, nebbishy guy. Self-deprecating humor can work with beautiful young starlets, but not with middle-aged married guys so much. By the end of the book, he’s slightly more likeable, but he’s by no means the best or most interesting person in the book.

The worst part about this book is that he describes what seem to be insurmountable problems, then goes on to the next chapter without really talking about how the problems were overcome. It’s like if you ended an episode with the hero tied up on the railroad tracks, and in the next chapter, he’s drinking beer in a saloon with no explanation of how he got there. It made me second-guess the narrator’s veracity. Maybe the problems weren’t as bad as they seemed, if the resolution wasn’t worth recounting.

The best part of the book were the characters. Howe may be a prototypical average white American, but he knew a variety of folks. Dwayne and George are my favorites. I wish I could have met them in real life.

I recommend this book for people who like memoirs, and for people who are sentimental about Brooklyn.

View all my reviews

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