My Korean Deli

My Korean Deli

Risking It All for A Convenience Store

Book - 2011
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Random House, Inc.

This sweet and funny tale of a preppy literary editor buying a Brooklyn deli with his Korean in-laws is about family, class, culture clash, and the quest for authentic experiences in an increasingly unreal city.

It starts with a simple gift, when Ben Ryder Howe's wife, the daughter of Korean immigrants, decides to repay her parents' self-sacrifice by buying them a store. Howe, an editor at the rarefiedParis Review, reluctantly agrees to go along. However, things soon become a lot more complicated. After the business struggles, Howe finds himself living in the basement of his in-laws' Staten Island home, commuting to theParis Review offices in George Plimpton's Upper East Side townhouse by day, and heading to Brooklyn at night to slice cold cuts and peddle lottery tickets. The book follows the store's tumultuous lifespan, and along the way paints the portrait of an extremely unlikely partnership between characters across society, from the Brooklyn ghetto to Seoul to Puritan New England. Owning the deli becomes a transformative experience for everyone involved as they struggle to salvage the original gift — and the family — while sorting out issues of values, work and identity.

Publisher: [Toronto] : Doubleday Canada, c2011
ISBN: 9780385664127
Branch Call Number: 381.147 HOW
Characteristics: 304 p. ; 22 cm


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Since we have a lot of Korean friends and neighbours, I decided to listen to a story about the life, culture, and struggles of someone who married into a Korean family. What I got was a funny memoir of a former editor of Paris Review, his Korean wife, and his complicated and hilarious mother-in-law, trying to buy and run a convenience store. I found myself nodding my head with a big smile as I listened to the words of Ben Ryder Howe, as read by Bronson Pinchot, describing the situations, complications, and rationale behind the decision-making in his family. This audiobook was the funniest non-fiction book I have listened to in a while! (submitted by IM)

jrno3lzz Jan 27, 2016

koreans have really good insurrance rate quotes

this was like a program managing committee
koreans really opened my mind to better way of living

Jan 27, 2016

Well written - funny, good pacing and hard to put down.
Howe captures the immigrants' capacity for hard work and risk. Thoroughly enjoyable read.

Sep 05, 2015

I just realized this year that I read a lot of memoirs, and I read them because I look for a memorable story, told by a memorable voice. I very much enjoyed this one--an honest, funny look at owning a small business in Brooklyn, as well as much self deprecating humor (author is often not very competent at running the store and gets his extended family into difficult situations). There's a lot going on here--clash of cultures (author's WASP family and his wife's Korean family), $ struggles with the store, as well as the author's day job working for George Plimpton at the Paris Review. It is a wacky, funny, depressing, real story.

Mar 05, 2013

A real slice of New York -- from Manhattan publishing to multi-cultural families on Staten Island and a deli in Brooklyn. If it doesn't all come together neatly, well, that's life -- messy, but worth the trip.

hgeng63 Jun 24, 2012

Disappointing; too lightweight & shapeless.

Sep 13, 2011

This was a very entertaining, funny read. Really enjoyed it!

ksoles Sep 06, 2011

...Alternatively titled, "My Big Fat Korean Disappointment."

When Ben Ryder Howe, descendant of the Mayflower Puritans and Senior Editor at "The Paris Review," and his wife, Gab, a Korean-American lawyer, purchase a convenience store for Gab's mother, Kay, the whole family must learn to survive against police stings, armed criminals, blizzards and inflexible customers.

The juxtaposition between the characters in Howe's double life (editor and deli owner) plays out nicely: his narrative shows emotion and warmth towards both Plimpton, his boss at "The Review," and Kay, though the two characters lie poles apart. Plimpton comes across as kind, fun-loving, iconoclastic, vulnerable and bullying all at once while Kay is nothing if not driven, high-strung and stubborn. Impressively, both become more endearing as the book progresses, as does the deli's loyal employee Dwayne, a single father from the projects who has abandoned his troubled past.

But beyond competent characterization, "My Korean Deli" ultimately disappoints. The memoir has such potential for penetrating insight into cultural identity, the immigrant work ethic, Puritan ancestry and gentrification. Unfortunately, although Howe brings these issues to the reader's attention, he uses more ink on witty but redundant commentary than on fleshing them out. Additionally, while Howe succeeds at creating tension, especially when it builds upon one of his own mistakes, he glosses over any resolution and leaves the reader hanging. The result is a frustrating read that ends abruptly and unsatisfactorily.

debwalker Mar 10, 2011

A preppy editor ends up working the night shift behind the counter at his immigrant in-laws' Brooklyn grocery store in this funny, poignant, true story.
— Karen Holt

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