Steph Cha discusses her new novel “Your House Will Pay,” the LA Riots, the Korean American Angeleno community, her 3,600 Yelp reviews, and pushing back against gatekeepers in publishing.
By Victoria Namkung
On March 16, 1991, 15-year-old Latasha Harlins went to a local convenience store in South Los Angeles to buy a bottle of orange juice. Owner Soon Ja Du accused the teenage girl of shoplifting, an altercation ensued, and in a split-second captured on video, Du shot Harlins in the back of the head. She died with two dollars in her hand. A jury found Du guilty of voluntary manslaughter, but against their recommendation, the judge sentenced the Korean-born woman to a $500 fine, probation, and community service.
Harlins’ murder, which occurred two weeks after the beating of Rodney King by four LAPD officers, was a major contributing factor to the city’s 1992 uprising—LA’s deadliest year—which resulted in 63 deaths, thousands of injuries, and more than 800 million in material losses. By the end of the unrest, known as Saigu among Koreans, rioters had looted, set fire, and damaged more than 2,200 Korean-owned businesses.
Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, based on the murder of Harlins, is an empathetic and nuanced portrayal of two southern California families forever connected by violence and tragedy. Set in present-day Los Angeles, the novel is centered on Korean American Grace Park, a naïve and dutiful daughter who lives and works in the Valley with her secret-keeping parents, and Shawn Matthews, an African American ex-con whose sister was murdered by a Korean grocery store owner.
A new shocking crime sends the Parks and Matthews on a collision course to face their shared history against the backdrop of an already tense city on the cusp of more racial violence. Taut and razor-sharp, Your House Will Pay masterfully examines themes of racism, revenge, incarceration, grief, shame, injustice, and social movements.
Cha, a food writer, book critic, editor, and author of the Juniper Song crime trilogy, has written for the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Los Angeles Review of Books, where she’s the noir editor. The L.A. native is also an enthusiastic Yelper whose thousands of reviews led her to becoming a scout for the late Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold.
We spoke by phone in Los Angeles, where Cha lives with her husband and two basset hounds. We discussed the simmering racial tensions in the early 1990s, the challenges of fictionalizing a major historical event, generational trauma, and her latest gig writing on the HBO Max series, Crime Farm. Our conversation has been slightly condensed and edited. Read Rest of Interview Here