Steph Cha
Korean-American literature

How to Cite

WILLEMS, B. D. (2021). BITTERNESS AND RECOGNITION: ROOM FOR OTHERS IN THE NOVELS OF STEPH CHA. International Journal of Korean Humanities and Social Sciences, 7, 37–60.


The novels of Steph Cha posit two key characteristics for openness toward others: bitterness and recognition. The thesis of this paper is that both characteristics must be present together in order for openness to occur. Cha’s Juniper Song detective series (2013-15), as well as her stand-alone novel Your House Will Pay (2019), foreground the role that bitterness and recognition play in an openness of Korean-Americans to other American people of color. Following the work of Jacques Rancière and Axel Honneth, bitterness is seen as a characteristic that keeps recognition from falling into the oppressive traps of one group only recognizing the pre-established modes of identity of another. Cha’s novels insist on moments of bitterness within scenes of recognition, thus showing how both characteristics, together, form an essential way for a positive openness to another to be possible. Other Korean-American authors discussed include Cathy Park Hong, Caroline Kim, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.


This work was supported by the Seed Program for Korean Studies through the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2018-INC- 20180060)


Camus, Albert. 1991. The rebel: An essay on man in revolt. Trans. by Anthony Bower. New York: Vintage.

Casanova, Pascale. 2004. The world republic of letters. Trans. by Malcom B. DeBevoise. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Cha, Steph. 2014. Beware, beware. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Cha, Steph. 2015. Dead soon enough. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Cha, Steph. 2013. Follow her home. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Cha, Steph. 2019. Your house will pay. New York: Ecco.

Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung. 2001. Dictée. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Chang, Ailsa. 2019. Racial unrest of early ‘90s Los Angeles resurfaces in “Your house will pay”. NPR (Oct 30), (accessed December 13, 2021).

Chang, Leonard. 1996. The fruit ‘n food. Seattle: Black Heron Press.

Cho, Grace M. 2008. Haunting the Korean diaspora: Shame, secrecy, and the forgotten war. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Choi, Don Mee. 2020. DMZ Colony. Seattle: Wave Books.

Choi, Jae-bong. 2021. Korean American author Steph Cha says white-dominated system exploits Asian-Black conflict. Hankyoreh (May 13), (accessed December 13, 2021).

Coulthard, Glen Sean. 2014. Red skin, white masks: Rejecting the colonial politics of recognition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. DOI:

Deranty, Jean-Philippe. 2003. Jacques Rancière’s contribution to the ethics of recognition. Political Theory 31, no. 1: 136-156. DOI:

Derrida, Jacques. 2005. On cosmopolitanism and forgiveness. Trans. by Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes. London: Routledge.

Fraser, Nancy and Axel Honneth. 2003. Redistribution or recognition? A political-philosophical exchange. Trans. by Joel Golb, James Ingram, and Christiane Wilke. London: Verso.

Hong, Cathy Park. 2002. Translating mo’um. Brooklyn: Hanging Loose Press.

Hong, Cathy Park. 2007. Dance dance revolution. New York: W.W. Norton and Co.

Hong, Cathy Park. 2012. Engine empire. New York: W.W. Norton and Co.

Hong, Cathy Park. 2020. Minor feelings: A reckoning on race and the Asian condition. London: Profile Books.

Honneth, Axel. 1995. The struggle for recognition: The moral grammar of social conflicts. Trans. Joel Anderson. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Hooker, Juliet. 2009. Race and the politics of solidarity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. DOI:

Hwang, Jongyon. 2010. A postnational turn in contemporary Korean literature. World Literature Today, 84, no. 1: 50-52. DOI:

Hwang, Kyung Moon. 2017. A history of Korea: An episodic narrative. London: Palgrave.

Kang, Younghill. 2021. East goes West. London: Penguin.

Kao, Grace. 2015. Working contextually and in solidarity with others. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 31, no. 1: 115-121. DOI:

Kim, Caroline. 2020. The prince of mournful thoughts and other stories. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. DOI:

Kim, Claire Jean. 2003. Bitter fruit: The politics of Black-Korean conflict in New York City. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Lee, Chang-Rae. 2013. Native speaker. London: Penguin.

Lee, Min Jin. 2017. Pachinko. New York: Grand Central Publishing.

Lim, Jeehyun. 2013. Black and Korean: Racialized development and the Korean American subject in Korean/American fiction. Journal of Transnational American Studies 5, no. 1,, DOI: (accessed December 13, 2021). DOI:

Nkhoma, Nelson Masanche. 2018. Moving beyond poststructural paralysis. Journal of Higher Education in Africa, 16, no. 1/2: 95-114.

Park, Yongsoo. 2002. Boy genius. New York: Akashic Books.

Park, Yongsoo. 2018. The art of eating bitter: A hausfrau dad’s journey with kids. New York: Piggycorn Books.

Pochoda, Ivy. 2015. Steph Cha talks about the LA immigrant noir of “Dead soon enough”. Los Angeles Times (Aug 11), (accessed December 13, 2021).

Rancière, Jacques and Axel Honneth. 2016. Recognition or disagreement: A critical encounter on the politics of freedom, equality, and identity. New York: Columbia University Press.

Spahr, Juliana. 1996. Postmodernism, readers, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s “Dictee”. College Literature, 23, no. 3: 23-43.

Stevenson, Brenda. 2013. The contested murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, gender, and the origins of the LA riots. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Suny, Ronald Grigor. 2009. Truth in telling: Reconciling realities in the genocide of the Ottoman Armenians. The American Historical Review 114, no. 4: 930-946. DOI:

Taylor, Charles. 1994. Multiculturalism: Examining the politics of recognition. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Willems, Brian. 2020. The end of ideology: The poetry of Cathy Park Hong. Acta Neophilologica, 53, no. 1-2: 101-118. DOI: