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Chang-rae Lee Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Native Speaker (1995)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
A Gesture Life (1999)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Aloft (2004)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Surrendered (2009)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
On Such a Full Sea (2014)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
My Year Abroad (2021)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

Coming Home Again (1995)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Chan-Rae Lee is a Korean- American author of contemporary, literature and fiction books. Lee schooled in Phillips Exeter Academy and was awarded a degree in English from Yale University and masters in Fine Arts in writing from the University of Oregon.

Before turning writing as his full-time job, he worked as a financial analyst in Wall Street for one year. Lee also worked as a teacher at Princeton University and served as director of the creative writing program at the university.

Lee’s debut novel, Native Speaker about the betrayal and alienation of the immigrants, has won several awards including Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award in 1995 and Hemingway Foundation award in 1996.

Native Speaker

Native Speaker is a story narrated in the view of the protagonist character, Henry Park. He is a second generation Korean-American separated from his son, wife and his parents and also his Korean culture.

Henry Park is a spy working for a private company called Glimmer. The company deals with issues like deceit and personal betrayal by digging into one’s conversation, becoming friends with the suspect and later give information on what they find. The boss of the company provides the operatives the task of spying some suspects by race.

Park is close to an old native Greek, Jack Kalantzakos who is suspected of having worked as a CIA agent. Jack seems to like Par, but he understands that he should do his job first. Park is just a middle-class American, and he is trained since childhood on the Asian cultures.

He is given the task to investigate a Korean-American politician where his identity is to be tested. For him to accomplish the job, he has to figure out who surrounds him within the political and ethnic conflicts in New York.

In the Korean culture, demonstrating affection for your family is less important than how the American view it. Keeping the emotional hurts to yourself and showing frozen respect is a sign of a superior Asian citizen. Family difficulties are starting haunting Park after he marries Lelia who is an American and demonstrates herself emotionally.

Lelia works as a therapist, and her main task is to help foreigners to learn English. In spite of her skill of teaching, she does not understand some of the differences and gaps in communication with her husband, Park. Mitt, their son, is a full American by training and acts as the bridge between his parents. Mitt gets his education in Korean culture on some occasions.

Lelia seems to have no issue with his husband’s Korean race what bothers her is the inability of Park to speak out his inner life in any language and it hard to tolerate. Through Park’s harsh upbringing in Korea, he learned how to hide his emotions and always recall everything he learns. His childhood makes him be a spy naturally without any training.

The story is psychologically complex and fascinating to read; it explores the intertwining of the Korean immigrants who want to adopt some American cultures and have American born children who are fully assimilated. However, the white Americans are against it making the Korean face the rejection.

The author focuses on Henry Park’s values as a middle-class American citizen, marrying him to a white American woman who they live together in a suburban home. They raise their son without any traditional rituals between his parents and him.

Henry works as a spy and distributes weapons for people who never believed in the American idealism. He does this as a revenge to the Americans for hurting him. Park later separates with his wife after the unfortunate death of their son. He works to make things work between him and his wife for them to be together again.

Native Speaker talks majorly on the cultural alienation, betrayal, loyalty and how to connect to the world instead of running away from it.

The Surrendered

The surrendered is a story that begins in 1950 when June Han an eleven-year-old girl together with her family escape to North Korea. She is now an orphan after his parents were killed in the Korean War. June is also a widow and manages her antique business in New York. She has a son, Nicholas who is estranged from her. At the age of forty-seven, Nicholas dies after suffering stomach cancer for a long time.

The second protagonist in the book is Hector Brennan, a retired officer after serving in the Korean War. After he was discharged from the hospital, he began working in the orphanage where June spent her childhood.

The other story is of a late woman, Sylvie Tanner who together with her husband was missionaries who were the founders of the orphanage that accommodated June. She is beautiful but deeply damaged when her elusive love changed everything. Each of the three, June, Sylvie and Hector is dealing with their demons that are threatening to destroy both them and the people around them. After thirty years, June and Hector reunite in a way that forces them to be in good terms with the secrets of their past.

The author intertwines the stories of the three characters by taking you back in time nicely, and the narration is smooth such that you will not find yourself lost during the time transitions. The stories first intertwine in the orphanage where the three form a dangerous trio with Sylvie as the leader. Both Hector and June seek for Sylvie’s attention and love, and we learn that they are both responsible for the tragedy that caught Sylvie and her early death.

Sylvie is a likable and a well-drawn character when she is both filled with light and darkness. Even though the demons torture her, she still manages to enjoy life and the company of the people around her.

The surrendered is a charming story of love and war and how they interchange and change the lives of people. The story has a lot of suspense and elegant with many flashbacks joining together the past and the present.

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