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Fox Girl - Nora Okja Keller Fox Girl is a brilliant "awareness novel", transporting the reader to 1960s Korea, where women trapped in a culture of prostitution struggle to survive in "America Town," serving the American soldiers on the local base. Narrated by the teenage Hyun Jin and focusing mainly on herself and friends Sookie and Lobetto, it shows how multiple generations are trapped into a cycle of exploitation, especially children of prostitutes and American soldiers. The characters and their lives are realistic; clearly, the author knows of what she writes.

Still, an exposé doesn't automatically make a great novel, and there were a few problems that prevent me from recommending it wholeheartedly. The most irritating while I was reading was the problem of time: the story covers several years, during which the lead female characters become involved in prostitution, get pregnant, etc... and we never know how old they are at any given time! The prologue presents Sookie's age at a couple of key moments, but this information doesn't fit with the amount of time that seems to have elapsed in the text, and it's unclear how old everyone else is in relation to Sookie--she and Hyun Jin appear to be the same age at the beginning, until about 1/3 of the way in, when we discover that Sookie is two years older... although she claims to remember Hyun Jin's birth, which she could not have if she was two. And so forth. This was a problem for me throughout the book, although other readers might not be bothered.

Then there was the fact that all the main characters were just plain unlikable. Now, I know, they were prostitutes and pimps, they were leading rough lives, and they seemed quite realistic as they were. Still, the author seemed to be going out of her way to make them seem unpleasant, which made it hard for me to care about their struggles; I would have had more sympathy for Hyun Jin if the author hadn't spent the first 100 pages showing us what an insensitive friend she was and how she bullied other kids. And the early scene where her parents kicked her out seemed random and contrived. There were some other minor issues as well: Korean words were used without any translation, and continuity problems (Hyun Jin commenting on the relationship between Sookie and Lobetto only to be surprised later on by what she already knew, etc.).

I've written a lot criticizing this book, but I agree with a lot of the things the positive reviewers have stated: if you're looking for a gritty, realistic book (and I mean seriously gritty; expect group sex, bestiality, etc., to be described in some detail) about the lives of Korean prostitutes, this is your book. Just don't say I didn't warn you.