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Main Author: Lee, Chang-rae.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Riverhead Books, 1996
Edition: Riverhead trade pbk. ed.
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Review by Booklist Review

Lyrical, mysterious, and nuanced, the poignant moodiness of this first novel by a 28-year-old Korean American lingers long after the final page is turned. It deals with the imprint the immigrant experience in America makes on a person's psyche. Lee tells the story in the voice of Henry Park, a second-generation Korean who works as a privately employed spy and at home deals with a shaky marriage and the death of his young son. Assigned to get close to an up-and-coming Korean American politician, Park suddenly discovers he must do things he has tried to avoid all his life--face up to his roots, evaluate his loyalties, find his voice, and understand the pain he carries deep within. Beautifully written and intriguingly plotted, the novel interweaves politics, love, family, and loss as Park starts to make sense of the rhythm of his life. As he does, his experiences illuminate the many-layered immigrant experience in general, and the Asian immigrant experience in particular, in a way that many readers will understand and appreciate. --Mary Ellen Sullivan

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Espionage acts as a metaphor for the uneasy relationship of Amerasians to American society in this eloquent, thought-provoking tale of a young Korean-American's struggle to conjoin the fragments of his personality in culturally diverse New York City. Raised in a family and culture valuing careful control of emotions and appearances, narrator Henry Park, son of a successful Korean-American grocer, works as an undercover operative for a vaguely sinister private intelligence agency. He and his ``American wife,'' Lelia, are estranged, partly as a result of Henry's stoical way of coping with the recent death of their young son. Henry is also having trouble at work, becoming emotionally attached to the people he should be investigating. Ruminating on his upbringing, he traces the path that has led to his present sorrow; as he infiltrates the staff of a popular Korean-American city councilman, he discovers the broader, societal context of the issues he has been grappling with personally. Writing in a precise yet freewheeling prose that takes us deep into Henry's head, first-novelist Lee packs this story, whose intrigue is well measured and compelling, with insights into both current political events and timeless questions of love, culture, family bonds and identity. This is an auspicious debut for Riverhead Books, Putnam's new division. First serial to Granta; QPB selection; audio rights to Brilliance; author tour. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

In a first novel of impressive poetic and psychological accomplishment, Lee offers his readers first-generation Korean American and spy Henry Park, a compelling, clever, but vulnerable narrator. On assignment as a mole in the office of councilman and New York mayoral hopeful John Kwang, Henry finds himself deeply affected by his nominal boss's charisma and the cultural memory he triggers. At once reflective and suspenseful, Henry's story pulls together the elusiveness of languages; the beauty and harm of Henry's heritage; the bizarre, unanticipatable death of his young son; and the constant dance of estrangement and love between Henry and his complicated American wife, Lelia. Although most characters remain frusratingly vague, Henry himself is a wonderful, honest creation: complex, inconsistent yet nearly predictable, and fascinating. His story is a genuine page-turner. Warmly recommended. [This is the first book in Putnam's new Riverhead imprint, which will specialize in quality fiction and nonfiction.-Ed.]-Janet Ingraham, Worthington P.L., Ohio (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

In quiet, rich tones, Korean-American Henry Park, the narrator of this debut, speaks more clearly about his estranged wife than about his work. This is only natural, for Henry is employed as a sort of industrial spy, and his most recent assignment is to infiltrate the people surrounding John Kwang, a Korean-American New York City councilman who may be headed for bigger things. Dealing with the slick Kwang causes him to reminisce about his own father, who owned fruit and vegetable stores and encouraged him to marry a white woman. Inadvertently following his father's advice, he ended up married to Lelia, a speech therapist. Their son died at seven when he participated in a ``dog pile'' gone wrong. Subsequently, Lelia wanders off periodically and then finally leaves Henry for good. Lee creates the perfect tone for Henry--distanced, but never ironic or snappish. His observations and memories have the discomfiting feel of revealing truth. He tells how his father made him recite Shakespeare to show off his English for customers, and how one day he was commanded to allow a regular customer to exit a store without paying for an apple she had bitten and returned to a shelf. ``Mostly, though,'' says Henry, ``I threw all my frustration into building those perfect, truncated pyramids of fruit.'' He also describes how his father employed recently arrived immigrants because they were the hardest workers. His grappling with his son's death (``You pale little boys are crushing him, your adoring mob of hands and feet, your necks and heads, your nostrils and knees, your still-sweet sweat and teeth and grunts'') and the slow rapprochement between him and Lelia are wonderfully drawn. The sections on his work are somewhat more challenging, particularly since his exact job is not very clear in the beginning, but Lee's careful prose conveys an immigrant's ability to observe without participating, and an outsider's longing for place and identity. A serious, masterful, and wholly innovative twist on first- generation-American fiction. (First printing of 30,000; first serial to Granta; Quality Paperback Book Club selection; author tour)

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.