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★★★★☆ Book Review: Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

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A freak incident blows open old wounds and dark secrets in this novel about the destruction wreaked by fear and racism.

Throughout American history, Asians have always taken the backseat when it comes to discussions of race, with the Black or Latinx community always the minorities featured at the forefront, and their issues prioritised due to their urgency. As the ‘model minority’, Asians still bear a degree of racism in the Western parts of the world, but as is the stereotype, generally soldier on and focus on survival through hard work and laying low, rather than challenging the status quo.

But in Steph Cha’s 2019 novel Your House Will Pay, we see an Asian family caught in the crossfire of racism and revenge, and realise that regardless of skin colour, it is any and all minorities’ responsibility to stand up to systemic racism, and join the fight against injustice, because one day, they just might find themselves on the opposite side of the spectrum.

Much like how BLM became an international phenomenon following the unjust murder of George Floyd, Your House Will Pay seemed almost prescient with its frank and painful exploration of race relations and how fast these underlying tensions burst into a wildfire with a single spark. The story centres on two American families living in Los Angeles – one African-American, and one Korean, both seemingly with no relation to each other. But when a chance incident erupts, the lives both families painfully, and tragically collide with each other.

Throughout the novel, Steph Cha leaves no doubt that this is a story about how ugly racism is and always has been. Flashbacks to the early 90s showcase the characters as children, facing outright discrimination when they’re turned away from movie theatres, while in the present day, an innocent, unarmed Black teenager is shot dead, both still painfully relevant in today’s precarious racial situation.

Steph Cha writes her characters with startling realness, each one flawed and hurt in their own way that informs their actions. The Black family continues to nurse old wounds from a tragedy in their past as they deal with new challenges of the present, such as a family member attempting to rehabilitate into society following a prison sentence. The Korean family features a headstrong leftwing daughter with an (irritatingly) try-hard white boyfriend, as well as her quieter sister, choosing to remain on the sidelines until the incident shakes her faith in her own family, her cries on social media met with the ire of the mob. We feel and understand the position of all these characters, making it it all the more painful when things fall apart.

Seen through the lens of family melodrama, what is initially a crime mystery gives way to societal commentary. We quickly come to realise that no matter how much we want to distance ourselves from the subject of race, the moment one is born into a world that is divided on the basis of colour, race becomes an unavoidable facet of one’s life, and a compulsory conversation. The myriad of characters and their reactions to the incident showcase the diversity of views and effects it can have on people, but at the end of the day, emphasises how revenge solves nothing, and it is the fundamental injustice that must be resolved.

Tenderly written, and gripping in its ability to tease out the complications and complexities of race relations between minorities, Your House Will Pay is a poignant portrait of a broken country, powerful on the outside but collapsing from within. With the flames of rage and desperation kindled over the course of the novel, Your House Will Pay arrives at a stunning, bittersweet conclusion that allows our protagonists to see beyond their pain, and unite against a common enemy and the true source of their conflict.

Recommended for: Those seeking to read into race relations between minorities, and are drawn to domestic dramas as microcosms of greater societal tensions. 

Your House Will Pay is published by Faber & Faber, and available at major bookstores. 

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