A gesture life /

The secret life of a Japanese-American pharmacist in a small town in New York. On the surface a model of propriety and serenity, he is torn by memories of his service in the Japanese army in World War II and the comfort woman he loved and could not save. By the author of Native Speaker.

Main Author: Lee, Chang-rae.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Riverhead Books, 2000, c1999.
Edition: 1st Riverhead trade pbk. ed.
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Review by Booklist Review

Doc Hata is a model citizen in the small, prosperous community of Bedley Run, New York. Polite, silver-haired, and a distinguished minority of one, he earned his nickname at the helm of his medical-supply store, a business he ran with pride. Now retired, he spends his quiet summer days tending the garden that surrounds his grand old house and swimming laps in his slate pool. But as Lee, the author of the prizewinning novel Native Speaker (1996), slowly reveals, this orderliness is a facade painstakingly erected to conceal Hata's profoundly stricken heart. Hata seems to have no family until Sunny comes into gradual focus. Beautiful and wildly defiant, she is his adopted, currently estranged daughter. Hata, who never married, was also adopted. The son of poor ethnic Koreans living in Japan, he was raised by a wealthy Japanese couple. Hoping to become a doctor, he trained as a medic in the Japanese army during World War II. Memories of those harrowing times surface, and what seemed to be a tale of suburban angst metamorphoses into a searing indictment of war. Although Hata never saw combat, he witnessed indelible horrors in camp ignited by the presence of a lovely and doomed comfort woman. As Hata's tragedy-marred life unfolds in both the violent past and the anguished present, the meaning of Lee's title emerges. Psychically wounded, Hata (whose full name, Kurohata, translates as black flag, the sign of a quarantine) is unable to express or accept love, so he depends on correctness, on making the right gesture, to win respect, thus forever remaining one step outside the full embrace of life. This portrait of a man whose soul has been cauterized would resonate in the plainest of tellings, but the glory of Lee's prose--its perfect pitch and pacing and the blazing intensity of each startling scene--makes this a work of inestimable moral and artistic power. --Donna Seaman

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

Franklin Hata, born to Korean parents, raised by an adoptive family in Japan and settled in America, is the narrator of Lee's quietly stunning second novel. Like his first, the Hemingway/PEN award-winning Native Speaker, it is a resonant story of an outsider striving to become part of an alien culture. Beloved in the small, wealthy suburban New York community where for more than 30 years he ran a surgical supply store, "Doc" Hata lives a stringently circumspect life designed to afford him privacy and respect. Never married, he adopts a young girl of mixed parentage from a Japanese orphanage. He raises Sunny with strict adherence to impeccable standards, and is bewildered when she spurns his gifts and rejects his code of values. He is tormented, moreover, by memories of a gradually revealed event in his past, when he was a paramedical officer serving in the Japanese army in Burma. Then known as Ziro Kurohata, he tries to mask his Korean origins by behaving with inculcated respect for authority. But when five young Korean women arrive to service the soldiers as "comfort girls," his emotions betray him. He falls in love with one of them, and in a tentative attempt to behave heroically, he precipitates tragedy. Lee reveals these crucial events gradually in flashback, meanwhile also slowly completing his portrait of Hata as a decorous model citizen. After the war Hata determines never again to give way to emotion, so he loses an opportunity to enjoy love with a local widow, to give succor to another woman he admires, whose son is dying, and to establish real relationshops with others in the town of Bedley Run. Moreover, Sunny rebels against his stern standards, dropping out of high school and leaving town with a drug dealer. "You make a whole life out of gestures and politeness," she tells him. "You burden with your generosity." Finally, Hata is able to admit that both his exemplary behavior and his emotional reserve have been an attempt to distance himself from the dishonor of his wartime experiences. Meanwhile, he has quietly betrayed others in spite of his vow never to do so again. This ironic realization finally takes a physical toll, but opens his heart to an act of redemption. In an elegantly controlled narrative, Lee makes Hata's tortuous dilemma agonizingly real. While the prose is measured and moves to the pace of Hata's introspection, there is a rising tide of suspense that builds to two breathtaking climaxesÄone at the army camp and the other in the present. Lee subtly contrasts the nuances of cultural conditioning in Japanese society and in Hata's virtual reincarnation as an American citizen, all the while delivering a haunting message about the penalties one pays for such a metamorphosis. His psychologically astute depiction of Hata's inner life is reinforced by the presence in the plot of other characters who live valiantly despite troubled lives. This is a wise, humane, fully rounded story, deeply but unsentimentally moving, and permeated with insights about the nature of human relationships. If Lee's first novel was an impressive debut, this one marks the solid establishment of a stellar literary career. Author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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

Lee follows up his award-winning Native Speaker with the story of Franklin Hata, Korean born, of Japanese heritage, and now living in the New York suburbs. As he recalls painful memories of his involvement with a Korean comfort woman during World War II, Franklin's carefully constructed world starts to crumble. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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

From the author of the award-winning Native Speaker (1995), a remarkable portrait of a distinctively tragic, expansive man coming of age in America. ""Doc"" Hata (once Kurohata), a Japanese-American pharmacist in the fraying town of Bedley Run, New York, is no troubled youth, which is the first of unexpected--and welcome--fulfillments here: a story in which an American man ""appreciate[s] the comforts of real personhood, and its attendant secrets"" only after he's retired. A lifelong bachelor, Hata, a Japanese veteran of WWII, enjoys the comforts of a well-established, socially comfortable life. After a minor accident at home, Hata is taken to the hospital and hears of the death of Mary Burns, as well as news of his estranged daughter, Sunny. Having adopted Sunny when she was eight, Ham recalls the painful dissolution of his relation with her--a breach that originated with the abortion he insisted on for his daughter when she was 18. Mary Burns, a widow who had not only helped HaW with Sunny but had been his lover, amicably leaves him after finding him unable to return her affection. Startled to feel such loneliness at the center of his otherwise contented life, Hata finds its root in his wartime months with Kkutaeh, an unforgettably evoked comfort woman who was consigned to Hata's care in his outpost during the war. Called ""K,"" she was a Korean-born, Japanese-raised woman of fine intelligence and sweeping grace, a companion soul he fell in love with but was unable to save from death. In these scenes, Lee's prose and dramatic momentum carry a lean, rich precision to indelible effect: his writing is washed in a shimmer of suppressed grief, and it brings Hata to a bright, calm, fight reconciliation with his daughter, his past, and with himself. Lee is a writer of exquisite intimacy and delicate disclosures--and in Hata, he's found the perfect means to explore these gifts. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.