Skip to main content

Racism & Reconciliation in 'Your House Will Pay': Review


A tautly woven story of the racial tensions between black and Korean communities in LA in the early '90s and up to the present day. Based on the true story of the killing of 15 year-old Latasha Harlins.



Author Steph Cha tells a balanced, nuanced story about growing up with racial prejudice and how we reconcile our relationships with the people we love, when they hold problematic beliefs. Reading this book in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests this year gave it an added urgency for me as I felt so much of it was still relevant. Anti-black racism within other non-white communities isn't often discussed or acknowledged, but people have begun having those conversations recently, and so I thought this book was particularly timely. The descriptions in the book of people chanting 'I can't breathe' and 'say their names', at vigils and protests for victims of police shootings, might have felt prescient if it weren't for the fact that it just highlighted how, sadly, these situations are not new.

I didn’t know anything about the LA riots of 92, but after reading this book I got a sense of the complexities and mistrust between the different communities there. Cha also explores the effects of gang culture on black youth, the impact of incarceration on black families, and the challenges of rehabilitation to life outside the prison system.

Cha lets her characters tell the story without too many literary flourishes; her dialogue is convincing and I loved her portrayals of the dynamics between siblings, cousins and other family members. I found the details of Korean food and culture interesting, and I applaud the fact that the author has not otherized that culture by italicizing Korean words, or including a glossary or footnotes. The story is well-paced, with the narrative gathering momentum towards the big reveal (which may come as a surprise if you’re unfamiliar with the history), and then the denouement pulling us on to a crackling finale. 

But what the author does best is present the motivations of the characters, without ever justifying them; she takes a moral position without ever making it seem like she is on a soapbox. This is a thin line to walk and she does it adeptly. You may start off judging a certain character, but Cha manages to make you feel sympathy, or at least ambivalence, for each of them in turn, and by the end of the book you are left with an awareness and sorrow at the far-reaching impact of hatred and violence, for all involved. 

But there is also hope. It is a cycle of fear, mistrust and violence, but perhaps we are resilient enough, and generous enough, to break it.

Brown Brontë rating: 5 / 5 stars

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Home Is Where The Heart Is: Hashim and Family

It’s a difficult time right now for debut authors to be releasing books. So as a book blogger I’m trying to do my bit by sharing my thoughts on this wonderful debut novel: Hashim and Family, by Shahnaz Ahsan.
Before we start I have to tell you that I know the author personally, and OBVIOUSLY I’m bursting with pride for her, so if you feel you need to take this review with a grain or two of salt, please do so. However, rest assured that I never recommend a book that I don’t genuinely think is worth reading.


The story:
It’s Manchester in 1960 and Hashim has just arrived in Britain from East Pakistan – now known as Bangladesh. He moves into a shared house with his jovial cousin Rofikul and sets about trying to build himself a life. We see the two men going to work, socialising with their friends and navigating life in a new immigrant community. It’s not easy to adjust to a foreign country – the weather, the food, the unfamiliar ways. And people aren’t always friendly. But with Hashim’s new…

Seven Stories for Black History Month

Hello readers! It’s October, which means autumn, earlier evenings, and apparently RAIN. Of Biblical proportions. So what to do on all those rainy nights? WELL, as it happens, October is also Black History Month. So I thought I’d kick off my shiny brand-new blog with a (non-exhaustive) list of stories about interesting or memorable black characters. Several of them deal with slavery, only because I’ve read them fairly recently. However in future posts I will also be sharing titles by BAME authors on a variety of subjects and themes. The books here are not new titles, but they have all affected me deeply in different ways. If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to know what you thought of them! If you haven’t, I hope this post inspires you to try them.

Kindred – Octavia E. Butler
A time-slip novel you might enjoy if you liked The Time-Traveller’s Wife. Dana is an educated, independent, middle-class black woman from 1976 Los Angeles, married to the scholarly Kevin. One day, she finds hersel…

Misogyny, corruption and family ties: You Beneath Your Skin, Damyanti Biswas

In her tautly-written debut, author Damyanti Biswas explores the misogyny, corruption and social inequalities that exist in Delhi’s seamy underbelly. Dark and atmospheric, the book sits within the Indian noir genre that has inspired Hindi movies such as Mardaani and Talaash. It follows psychotherapist Dr Anjali Morgan as she juggles her work at a women’s project in inner-city Delhi, with her complicated personal life: her fraught relationship with her teenage son Nikhil, who has autism; her friendship with Maya who runs a small detective agency, and her on-off affair with Maya’s brother, Special Crime Commissioner Jatin Bhatt. When the three of them begin to work on a case solving a spate of grotesque murders in which slum women are raped and killed, their faces disfigured with acid, it exposes old scars and creates new ones in the personal lives of the main characters.


With her brooding writing style and the narrative split between multiple viewpoints, Biswas skilfully lays bare the h…