The novel’s perspective splits from there, as Yi follows both Kim’s treatment, often through the point-of-view of Hyun, another Korean RN, and Kim’s past, as the patient revisits her South Korean childhood, 1980’s Gwangju Uprising, her coming to America, and eventually the shocking behavior and treatment she experiences as a nurse: she’s marginalized, discriminated against, and eventually blamed for others’ failings. In the present, Hyun, too, faces all that, as well as the challenges of March 2020—uncertainty about treatments, a lack of PPE, and rapidly filling hospitals—as she fights to keep Kim alive.
Yi’s brief, tense narrative draws on her own experiences in nursing—and in striving to expose and eradicate discrimination and bias. For both characters, that’s part of the job, an extension of the mission of healing. Yi’s abbreviated treatment of Kim’s immigrant experience and her detailed, engaging dramatization of an early Covid case are compelling, but Fighting to Breathe is more powerful as truth telling than as novelistic storytelling, as what’s most urgent and memorable here is the revelation of all that nurses of color face as they care for us all.
Takeaway: Melvina Semper’s Discrimination Experienced in the Nursing Profession by Minority Nurses: Fifty True Stories from Nurses in New York City, Damon Tweedy’s Black Man in a White Coat.
Great for fans of: This brief, tense novel exposes the discrimination experienced by nurses of color from the vantage of the pandemic’s start.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A