The Collective
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The Collective

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3.51 of 5 stars 3.51  ·  rating details  ·  456 ratings  ·  118 reviews
In 1988, Eric Cho, an aspiring writer, arrives at Macalester College. On his first day he meets a beautiful fledgling painter, Jessica Tsai, and another would-be novelist, the larger-than-life Joshua Yoon. Brilliant, bawdy, generous, and manipulative, Joshua alters the course of their lives, rallying them together when they face an adolescent act of racism. As adults in Ca...more
Hardcover, 310 pages
Published July 16th 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published July 9th 2012)
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Eugene
the achievement of great, bittersweet passages (the opening scene of suicide, the sadly believable PC inanity of the collective's manifesto discussion, a narrative gamble on genital art that i think pays off) gets marred by some badly contrived episodes (the speech at the AA meeting, the immolation). But. this traditionally structured and styled novel (cheever and scott fitzgerald are named-checked) also contains difficult truths about both the writing life and asian america -- especially the tw...more
Constance
God, WHAT A RELIEF to read a book about Asian Americans that isn’t about the hardworking self-sacrificing first generation and their tensions with their renegade independent American children (complete with flashbacks of the home country in the 40s and 50s).

The more I think about this book the more I think I liked it. Maybe a lot. I can’t really tell. It was sadly hard to discern whether I found it a little slow in parts because it actually was uninteresting or because I’m not used to reading ab...more
Karissa
I have an uncomfortable relationship to "Asian American literature", and find myself often steering clear of it, worried it will be the same familiar stuff. But The Collective was refreshing and validating for an Asian American writer such as myself. It was a weird sort of meta feeling I got, reading this book, a book about Asian American artists struggling with the questions I have as an Asian American artist, or as an Asian American, period -- Do I have to write about Asians? How do I strike a...more
Meryl
I really enjoyed this book because it grapples with important questions about identity and race within the context of a highly engaging plot that’s both tragic and funny. Eric Cho, a third generation Korean American from California, has never consciously experienced racism or ethnic stereotyping before attending Macalaster, a small Northeastern liberal arts college.

In his freshman year, he meets Joshua Yoon, an adopted Korean who was raised by Jewish professors in Cambridge and Jessica Tsai, a...more
stacy
i had started this during the summer. and then sort of just stopped reading for a couple months. when i picked this up again, i finished it in one sitting.

i liked it very much. and am so happy that i own it. thanks to a powells coupon. yay!

i agree with soc and c. reading it was very comfortable and familiar.

i want to read his other stuff now.

man alive. dear books, i've missed you.
Ming
This is one of the most personally relevant books to me. As I was reading it, I immediately recalled the song, "Killing Me Softly." The story of three Asian American college students who wrestle with racial identity, with their "place" in US society, and with young adulthood and then adulthood reveals some of our deepest issues and processes. The writing is straightforward and Lee maintains a level of humor to balance some of the most poignant and vulnerable individual struggles. I felt as if Le...more
Aileen
"'But I haven’t experienced racism.'
'That’s a joke, right? Of course you have,' Joshua said. 'You’ve never had someone ask, ‘What are you?’ or ‘Where you from?’ or ‘What’s your nationality?’ because there’s no f**** way you can be a real American?'" (66)

"Esther was torn between the quesadillas with black beans and the vegetable pie made with puff pastry. 'They both sound so yummy. I just can’t decide,' she said. 'This is too much responsibility.' Defeated, she leaned her head on Jessica’s should...more
Dewitt
I finished Don Lee's THE COLLECTIVE in two spellbound days. Beautifully managed first person narrator in Eric Cho; great dialogue throughout ; intellectual breadth, wit, and complexity in treating the themes of art and racism; great plot complication and satisfying closure. Lee’s richest and best. Of the many episodes, Ch. 12, the breakup with Mirielle on a visit to BVI, and in Ch. 15, the conflict over Jessica's sculpture with the Cambridge City Councilman, Vivaldo Barboza, were standouts.
J
Kind of like "Better Luck Tomorrow" in book form, it's sad that Lee's book is refreshing. "The Collective" is an absorbing read in every right and one of the few/(only?) books out there that I can name with fallible, barely likable, contradictory individuals (who happen to be Asian Americans). Yes, it is important that the main characters are Asian Americans and no, it is not important that the characters are Asian Americans.

Lee's book is a well written novel of the kinds of friendships and rom...more
LL
This book was a very odd book for me. As an Asian-American college student, this book was the first book that seriously 'spoke to me' on a cultural level: let's be real, can any of us seriously consider ourselves represented in contemporary lit? I haven't read any Amy Tan, but I'll be my bottom dollar that I won't be able to relate to her novels beyond the fact that I am a woman with a mother from da Motherland. For that, I give serious recognition to Don Lee.

However, I loathed the characters, a...more
Jessica
I love the idea behind The Collective - the lives of contemporary Asian American young people is something you don't see filling up the best-seller lists and I found it really interesting. The story really ensnared me at the beginning, but throughout the book I just couldn't get past the tin-eared dialogue and unsupported plot turns. Don Lee, unfortunately, seemed in this book at least to be of the school of "Tell, don't show." In the final chapter, Lee's narrator outright tells readers who his...more
Janet
The Collective tells us about three Asian American friends who meet in college: Eric, Jessica and Joshua. The three couldn't be more different, and yet couldn't be more the same. Where Joshua is self-centered and a bit of a fake bully, Jessica is free-spirited and Eric wears his heart on his sleeve. However, all of them are struggling with their place in society as many college students do. Only they are all Asian American college students who, to varying degrees, have failed to live up to the s...more
Alice
A great book about identity politics and the difficulty of being an "artist" in modern America. The three protagonists, Joshua, Eric, and Jessica, meet as students at a small liberal arts college and form an Asian-American Artists collective. After college, they struggle to succeed in their chosen careers, compromising and making many mistakes along the way. What I loved about this book was that Lee perfectly captures the earnest idealism of young artists, and the internal struggles they face--...more
Douglas P
This is Don Lee's ode to the politically-correct, gen-ex era in academia (minneapolis and cambridge, massachusetts), and what makes this book strong is that he doesn't sugar-coat his characters (three asian-american artists who form a politically-motivated group called the 3AC) - nor does he paint them in the 'rags to riches' fashion, where they become successful as they grow older, wiser. It's quite the opposite, and Lee exposes the ideals that seem so righteous in youth, but in hindsight appea...more
John Luiz
Don Lee is a very talented writer and there is much to commend this book. I really liked his previous novel, Wrack and Ruin, maybe in part because I identified with the middle-aged men in that piece. Here his focus, for most of the book, is on young people in college and during the early days of their post-graduate lives. He portrays them with all the standard idealistic views and grandiose hopes people of that age have of taking the world by storm.

Eric Cho, a Korean American from California, is...more
Michael
Don Lee's new novel The Collective is an insightful look at the lives of college and post-college friends, the bonds they form and the way those bonds change over time and with maturity. Lee adds an element of race relations by writing about the Asian-American experience from many different angles. Eric, Joshua and Jessica are college friends, the former two budding writers, the latter an artist, who form the group 3AC, a group of Asian-American artists who support each other, party with each ot...more
Amy
This is the story of Joshua and all the ways he was a jerk, as told by his best friend from college. I got about halfway through this and then put it down. Joshua's mean-ness got to me.

This was not a friendship but a cold, competitive, backstabbing professional association. There is a ruthless, tough side to writing and art--good for Don Lee for reminding us not to romanticize the creative life. But if I want to read about this kind of insecure manipulation, I'll turn to academic satire, which...more
S.
So I liked this a lot, mostly because it looks at a more contemporary Asian American experience. I liked the narrator, but it's hard to have sympathy for the person he talks/obsesses about. The book was at its most interesting when it was discussing the line between or through art and activism, what it means to be "Asian American" and still holding to your specific ethnic identity (Korean vs. Thai vs. Vietnamese vs. Chinese). You see how sticky identity gets and the concept of inclusion vs. excl...more
Terry
Exceptionally well written; an insightful and provacative story.

The book opens with a suicide, and touches on the questions that the deceased's friends struggle with as they adjust to the death. Quickly, the story moves back 20 years in time to the beginning of college for the narrator, Eric, and two of his friends who meet at a very-white midwestern school. The three, all of Asian heritage, share a common passion for the arts -- one is a media artist and two are writers.

The story moves forward...more
Canuckgal
I was shocked that I enjoyed this book as much as I did. I'm a voracious reader of all shades of pan-Asian lit, and while the premise of the novel fell into an oft worn and tired trope (too-smart-for-their-britches Asian university students connecting with their Asian-ness! Battling racism with one hand tied behind their backs! Asians realizing that sleeping with each other is not as icky as they thought!), Don Lee managed to make things fresh with close-to-flawless writing, sharp wit and actual...more
Lizzie
Sep 02, 2013 Lizzie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
"Despite your best efforts and intentions, there's a limited reservoir to fellowship before you begin to rely solely on the vapors of nostalgia. Eventually, you move on, latch on to another group of friends. Once in a while, though, you remember something, a remark or gesture, and it takes you back." p. 25

"Freshman at Macalester were requred to take a first-year course...Even though it wasn't our first choice, the three of us were thrown together in a course called "The Vietnam War: Apocalyptic...more
Michelle
For as much as I want to give this book a higher rating, I'm honestly torn. "The Collective" was well-written and had some great passages I know I'll come back to later, but I really didn't like the character of Joshua. He was didactic, opinionated...and yet I realize why he was that way and why he needed to be that way for the story. But, ultimately, I found him distracting. I also feel like I can't give this book a higher rating because I don't know that I would recommend it; not because it is...more
Erin
Although I enjoyed Wrack and Ruin by Don Lee, I was resistant to reading this one. (The two books are very different.) The theme of college kids growing up and realizing life isn't what they thought it would be just wasn't grabbing me right now, although I have enjoyed several books with that premise. Yet, after repeatedly hearing how good it was, I decided to give it a try. Once I got past the first chapter or so, I found the story of these three Asian-Americans engaging and I wanted to see wha...more
Scott Collins
Don Lee is the first author in quite some time where I am anxious to immediately find his other books and begin reading them as soon as possible.

"The Collective," a story about three Asian American friends, who meet in college and all house desires to becme accomplished artists yet tragically fall apart, is a briskly paced, incredibly well written book filled with raunchy humor, crackling dialogue that ferociously ping-pongs on the pages and three beautifully conceived leading characters. Joshu...more
Rosa
My impressions of this novel don't differ very much from my impressions of the other work of Lee's I've read, his short story collection _Yellow_ - once again, his ability to immediately draw you into his narrative is excellent (I read this in about two days, despite only having little pockets of time here and there), and again, the depth of his attention to Asian American issues (particularly Asian Americans as artists) is commendable. However, he still has trouble exploring those ideas in a ma...more
Robbin
I'm an Asian-American who studied Asian-American history in a liberal university. That's my bias.

I like Don Lee's stuff. There aren't too many Asian-Americans out there talking about what they've experienced, and to this day people don't really seem to get that it's difficult to be a part of the Model Minority. And these characters aren't just Asian-American. They're Asian-American artists, which makes things more difficult than they have to be. And I identify with the three main characters, or...more
Paul Lunger
Don Lee's "The Collective" starts out rather auspiciously with the suicide of Joshua Yoon & asking the question of why people choose to end their own life. What we then get is a story of 3 friends who start out as college students (the other 2 being Eric Cho & Jessica Tsai) who go through school & life beyond & the events that lead up to Joshua's suicide. Lee's story focuses on the struggles that artists in general face as they try to master a craft whether it be writing or paint...more
Karl Lagerfeld
The Collective is about three Asian Americans artist friends who meet at college and chronicles the ensuing 20 years post as friendships come together and fizzle apart, all revolving around the exhortations and manoeuvring of their enigmatic, Gatsby-like nucleus, Joshua. It's also about Asian-directed racism and art and how minorities are always asked to do more in their artistic endeavors than their white counterparts. Either you're pandering to racial stereotypes or you're white-washing yourse...more
Sara Habein
I suppose the argument could be made that The Collective is a story about how we can never completely know another person, and that even our closest friends are capable of surprising us. I just wanted to hear about it from someone else. If we could see the inner workings of Joshua, rather than speculate, and juxtapose those thoughts with his outward behavior, I might have enjoyed the novel more.

I understand that creative people are often not the most stable — myself being one of them — and while...more
Rebecca
I kind of like books that you can't tell if they are fiction or non. This was one of them and I liked it very much. It's starts with a shock and then goes back to the beginning (sort of like HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER in some ways). Asian kid goes to college in Minnesota and has friends of all types, including a group of other Asian friends. Then moves back east for work and maybe more school and this group of Asian friends comes and goes in his life. It's a simple, real book, which is the type I am...more
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Don Lee is the author most recently of the novel The Collective. He is also the author of the novel Wrack and Ruin, which was a finalist for the Thurber Prize; the novel Country of Origin, which won an American Book Award, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, and a Mixed Media Watch Image Award for Outstanding Fiction; and the story collection Yellow, which won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fic...more
More about Don Lee...
Yellow: Stories Wrack and Ruin Country of Origin

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