Friday, October 15, 2004

Chang-Rae Lee

I know it's a little early for another book, as I just dropped one on you a few days ago. Sorry. I spent the whole day wine tasting yesterday and didn't really have time to think of what I'd like to talk about in this space. If you want to read about my wine tasting experience, go here.

Going forward, Chang-Rae Lee is a special author. He's new, too, which puts this blog right on the cutting edge. Chang-Rae is a Korean-American author who, until recently, had written a couple of books about the Korean-American experience. He's fairly young, and judging by his latest work, daring.

The first book of his I read was Native Speaker, which details the plight of Henry Park, an unassuming detective who is as aloof in his private life as he is at work. His co-workers are a conglomerate of immigrant/nationals who get into the private lives of supposedly dangerous people to gain some shred of evidence that can be used against them. His life has gone terribly wrong thanks to the accidental death of his son. The book travels back and forth between work and life, using both to expound upon and remedy his deficiencies. If you're looking for a "plot" book, go somewhere else. The ultimate point of this book is to lay bare ideas about loneliness, love, and language...not to surprise you with some shocking conclusion. The surprises and plot elements exist, but I hope that's not all you get out of it.

I liked Native Speaker so much, I went ahead and read Aloft, a book about a white guy. That's where I have to start out, because on the surface it's awkward. I read his first book with the understanding that I was listening to a Korean-American narrator. That was some of its charm. For Lee to cross over and become an American narrator was a very difficult task, one that I think achieved some mixed results. The story is fabulous, and the white guy, Jerry, was married to a Korean-American woman. Again, the story is not so dependent on the outcome as the way it gets there, which is very nice. Jerry Battle is, like Henry Park, aloof and detached from everyone in his private life. He must come to terms with all of this and reconcile himself to his life. By the time I'd read for a little while, I was no longer concerned with the lack of an authentic Long Island voice because the story took over.

That's a very quick synopsis of two books by Chang-Rae. The third book, A Gesture Life, I haven't gotten to yet. Chang-Rae Lee is definitely worth your time and reads very easily. 'Til next time...



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