The Sense of Wonder by Matthew Salesses, released January 2023, is a beautifully written basketball story filled with passion, love, and loyalty, reaching far beyond the basketball court.
Salesses not only explores the drama that can be found in the world of professional sports — brought on by fame, money, and status — but also its underlying racism.
In the novel, Won Lee is the first-ever Korean American basketball player drafted into the NBA. Lee plays for the New York Knicks, alongside Powerball!, one of the league’s highly regarded veteran players.
When Robert Sung, an ESPN sportswriter, is assigned to write about Powerball! and the Knicks, they become an unlikely pair. Though their friendship, Lee meets Carrie Kang, a K-drama director.
In many ways, The Sense of Wonder feels like watching a K-drama series, with chapters that read out like episodes. Many of the popular tropes found in K-dramas can certainly be found in the novel. Salesses even goes so far as to devote an entire chapter describing genre for readers.
Salesses’ use of allusion in the book is brilliant. Throughout, the author weaves in the importance of having a point of reference when talking about someone or something. Readers of this book would be quite amazed at how simplistically Salesses can interlace his allusions together.
One point of reference that was easy to spot is the similarity between Won Lee’s story in The Sense of Wonder and Taiwanese American former NBA player Jeremy Lin, who now plays for the PLG, Taiwan’s professional basketball league.
Lee’s meteoric rise to and fall from stardom nearly mirrors Lin’s time in the NBA during the “Linsanity” era in 2012.
Salesses also draws on Lin’s experience to give readers a glimpse of the isolation, discrimination, and ire, that he described when looking back on being the only Asian American basketball player drafted into the American league.
In The Sense of Wonder, the character of Robert Sung is seemingly a reference to the Asian American community viewing American professional basketball from the outside-in. Sung’s character represents the adoration for basketball among many Asian Americans, including myself, but he also represents the despair we feel knowing how unlikely it would be to play at the professional level in the United States.
In an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, Salesses, a Korean American author, talks about his love of basketball and K-dramas.
According to Salesses, as a kid, he also wanted to play for the NBA. He jokingly said: “At some point, I thought, ‘I’m going to write this book so that I can say that the things that I’m doing, that I already do and like, are research, so that I can watch basketball and watch K-drama and no one can say I’m not actually writing in some way.’”
This book is an expression of Salessess adoration for both.