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Native Speaker

3.69  ·  Rating Details ·  4,949 Ratings  ·  444 Reviews
A provocative novel about Korean-American immigrant life and the self-discovery of one man, Henry Park, set against the turbulent background of NYC politics & ethnic tensions. "A serious, masterful, and wholly innovative twist on first-generation American fiction.
Hardcover, Large Print, 448 pages
Published September 1st 2002 by Wheeler Publishing (first published 1995)
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aPriL does feral sometimes
This is a brilliant, thoughtful, subject-packed, angst-riddled, almost-noir, teeters-on-the-edge-of-soap-opera, first novel by a writer who writes in a poetic prose. It is powerful and superb.

It is one of those novels where its strengths are also its weaknesses.

Ostensibly, this is a depressed first person narration by a second-generation American, Korean-American Henry Park, separated from his wife, separated from his son, separated from his Korean-born father and mother, separated from both Ame
Zöe Yu
Feb 20, 2013 Zöe Yu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american, korean
I read Amy Tam and Sour Sweet, I suppose to have more echoes from these Chinese immigrants decedents, but I felt nothing. These authors haven't touched the point in your heart that you will share the same feelings. However, in this book I could identify myself with him, the protagonist, identify the feeling even with Henry's father. I understand it. I believe that almost every immigrant had those thoughts from time to time. Not only because that my face could pass as a Korean in most of Korean e ...more
Aug 11, 2011 Ann rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There were too many themes that just never connected. I don't know if it was a story of immigrant alienation, political corruption or family tragedy. And the writing was verbose. My mind would wander while he was doing some long description and I would miss a major event like a bombing or a child's death; then have to reread the section to find out what happened. Then the book just ended with no real resolution. Maybe that was the point, that life continues, or as his wise mother said, "Over the ...more
I really enjoyed this while I was reading it, but when I finished and tried to remember why I was going to give it four stars, the only reason I could come up with is that it wasn't about WWI or WWII, like nearly every other book I've read this summer.
Chang-Rae Lee teaches creative writing at Princeton, and while I've never taken a class with him, I hear he's a pretty great professor. That coupled with the fact that my friend Tanya loves this book made it a must-read. I appreciated the way Lee t
Jul 25, 2008 Rebecca rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm surprised at how uneven this book is--the writing is very inconsistent, and the characterizations are thin and uncompelling. As for the plot, I can only assume that it was written with selling the movie rights in mind? It borders on the ridiculous.

And, it falls into one of my most hated cliches--the dead baby story. The baby died and then I suddenly found myself reevaluating my life. The baby died and then my relationship was on the rocks. The baby died and I almost lost my job. The baby die
Though I couldn't have predicted it from the first couple of chapters, this book ended up captivating me. I found it hard to settle into the prose - the beginning of the book seemed a little far-fetched (moles for hire? really?), and I wanted more details about the overarching losses that so clearly framed the protagonist's life.

And yet - the moment the author begins to dip into the protagonist's past; the moment the book begins to consider family, tradition, immigration, belonging; the moment
Jul 19, 2016 Katie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So fortuitous that I read this now. It's timely. It's such an incredible feeling to read the right book at the right time.

There were plot points that I felt didn't deserve five stars. The writing definitely does, and this was a case where the end of the book redeemed the weakness of any earlier plot lines I felt dissatisfied with earlier. The book definitely gets stronger and more compelling as you continue reading. In any case, despite its few weaknesses, it was the first thing I've finished th
Feb 25, 2016 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A challenging look at race, self-identity, assimilation (or the lack thereof) and being stuck in the interstices. Lee writes lovely prose (maybe just a wee melodramatic/bogs down at times) but a fast read despite its emotional heft. He doesn't shy away from the awkwardly painful/un-pc -- although really, the wife is a sometimes. I mean, who would EVER refer to their husband as "yellow peril: neo-American"????
I loved reading this book. It took me a while to really get into it, but I love the fact that it describes the experience of being an immigrant so well.

I like it much more that the Junot Diaz book everyone loves so much, and I think speaking of the experience, of starting over in a country that is not yours, is an important one.

And if it is written as beautifully as this one, better still.

Apr 06, 2010 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of good fiction.
This novel is amazing! I don't know how I could have missed it for almost 15 years. The author is Korean born, raised and educated in the United States (Yale, MFA from University of Oregon, now teaches at Princeton.)

Henry Park, the main character, was raised in New York City by Korean immigrants, so as is usual in first novels, there is some autobiographical influence here. Henry's father, who had been an electrical engineer in Korea, built up a successful chain of small grocery stores in the c
Nov 30, 2010 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
not really sure what i think about this book. insightful. The protagonist, Henry Park - and Chang-rae Lee himself - had a much different experience growing up as a Korean-American than I did. Interesting how that is. i: no real ties to my Korean heritage, raised by altogether American parents (some lingering Polish influence at best) mainly in American suburbia (what seems to be the life-suck of immigrant culture). Lee/Park: infinite ties to his heritage, raised by Korean parents in a city where ...more
Jade Keller
Sep 09, 2011 Jade Keller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you've heard me talk about Chang-rae Lee's book, "The Surrendered," you'll know I'm simply enamored of his work. "Native Speaker" is his debut novel and I was excited to read it because it deals with the immigrant experience: about being American, but nevertheless a perpetual outsider, from two worlds and belonging to neither. It's the story of a Korean-American, whose marriage with his white wife is on shaky ground, while his career leads him into dangerous paths that force him to choose loy ...more
Sep 06, 2015 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: revisiting-books
I liked this book much better on my second reading, twelve years later. The writing is uneven at times (especially in dialogue–which is so funny, given the themes, that at times it’s hard to tell if it’s actually a deliberate technique) (and at the beginning too–but lots of writers can’t write a good beginning)–but it’s a first novel, so. Most people, I think, read it as a personal-experience immigrant story, or the story of an unraveling marriage, and of course it is; it’s even a good immigrant ...more
Feb 11, 2014 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, immigrants

Henry Park is a man of secrets. Part of it is his Korean inheritance, assimilating with American culture in an almost seamless way, marrying an American wife. And part of it is the fact that he is a spy.

It's a freelance operation that he is part of, doing covert jobs for any number of clients, and that work has contributed to a growing sense that Henry is losing his way. He and his wife are separated, torn apart by the accidental death of their young son. But Henry's work and his almost patholo
Jared Della Rocca
Native Speaker utilizes a spy novel to explore the issues immigrants face in America. But in trying to cross genres, it ended up feeling a little flat. The "spy" portion (which I'm being overly generous using that term) was never quite defined. Henry Park's company does corporate espionage, for lack of a better term, but the company is broad-brushed and his co-workers tend to be vaporous. The structure wasn't clear, and the references to his last assignment, which was partially viewed as a failu ...more
Patrick McCoy
A friend recommended Native Speaker by Korean American writer Chang Rae Lee, so I picked it up in a used book store and forgot about it. Then when I read Gary Shyteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, he thanked Chang Rae Lee for helping him become a novelist and that reminded me of the book on my shelf, so I picked it up read it. Both Shytengart and Lee have written New York novels about identity in what is probably the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Both novelists are also mainly c ...more
Apr 12, 2008 Julia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
So all during my cross-country tour for grad school interviews, this book I borrowed from Lauren was waiting for me in my suitcase. I kept reading other things..."Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," "No Reservations," and InStyle magazine, mainly. Quick airport reads. I'm really glad I finally committed myself to reading this. I was off to a slow start, but as the book progresses, the language becomes ever more deliberate and ever more beautiful. I've read a lot of contemporary fiction about ...more
Emily Gordon
Nov 25, 2008 Emily Gordon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Maybe it was the right book at the right time in my life, but this one was perfect. Lee examines many of life's major obstacles and does so with grace and eloquence. He begins with a failing marriage then delves into questions of nationality, heritage, collective v. individual societies, and moral relativism. Those who have visited Korea or lived with Korean people will especially enjoy Lee, a Korean-American, but he also appeals to anyone who has ever watched a relationship die, struggled to ov ...more
May 06, 2009 Kristen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Chang-Rae Lee has some really beautiful turns of phrase, and his insight into the struggles of assimilating into the American culture is illuminating, but I still wonder if there aren't a hundred better ways to tell this story. The main character is supposed to be outwardly cold and indistinguishable, and ultimately that's how I felt about the narrative. The dialogue, in particular, irked me -- it was too stilted and over-informative. Nothing and no one in this book seemed realistic or particula ...more
May 07, 2009 Carmen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
The stiff manner of dialogue in this book really turned me off from the start, nothing seemed to have a heartbeat. I was expecting to enjoy this story about an outsider looking in, trying to find home, but it came off as completely dry and humorless. The story lacks momentum and the narrator has very little charm, he just seems self-pitying and morose throughout. Strangely enough, I respected his parents and kind of wished they wrote the book, particularly his mom who was constantly dropping pea ...more
Jul 25, 2009 Kris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Henry Park is a model Korean American. His father, a trained psychiatrist from the prestigious Seoul National University, immigrates to America to take up a noble, honorable profession: grocer. Henry, or Harry as he's called by friends, studies hard, obeys his parents and tries to find his balance as he tip-toes between two worlds - the ways of the old country and that of the new.

As he grows older, Harry continues, as he would say, 'marching west', always 'marching west'. He winces at the though
Jun 22, 2016 Daria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I veer between three and four stars. It didn't leave me unaffected; there is a grace in Lee's style, and from the very first pages one settles into the prose, trusting its soft, contemporary elegance.

But overall, Native Speaker seems to be a great, absurd fiction spun as cover for a memoir - as if the more melodramatic the plot (and here it is far too melodramatic, consciously so), the easier it is to mask a true story. But the book fools no one. Lee could have written his memoir alone, and it
Susan Kwon
Dec 27, 2012 Susan Kwon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most insightful book of the year of my own judgement. Maybe because I am Korean. There are so many issues to think about. Especially,Korean immigrant experiences that are not yet unseen or untold. The first generation of immigrant, a father. A proud, intelligent Korean man comes to America to be a grocer in New York. He hides his proud, emotions, but only shows stiff strength, cold business mind. The second generation, a Korean-American son, Henry Park. He is a epitome of confused "between." ...more
Janet K
Nov 03, 2016 Janet K rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Packed with all the emotions of angst, anxiety, anger, and everything that comes along with exploring what it means to 'assimilate' into the wonderful 'melting pot' that is 'multicultural' "liberal America" (read: white supremacist), Native Speaker does its job.

It is a novel of layered meanings with meanings beneath meanings. It attempts to address race relations, the contradictory American myth, and the violent realities of people of color and immigrants in white America.

Yet, the novel writte
We live in an era where "ethnic" American writers are supposed to go over a few talking points: establishing their own identity, coping with the pressures of an immigrant family, and a celebration of the multiethnic, democratic America. In Native Speaker, the protagonist radically fails to establish his own identity, despises his father but realizes that his worldview is still shaped by these nightmarish, arbitrary Confucian doctrines, and the multiethnic, democratic America is chaotic and corru ...more
May 01, 2011 Daniel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Native Speaker" is one of those novels that gets "into" a narrator's head, and is therefore best read in as few sittings as possible so as to sustain the tone and mood established by this narration. The story, in brief, deals with the narrator's childhood in a Korean-American family, his marriage to a white woman, and his work in a secretive organization.

I was most interested in the marital strife that the narrator, Henry Park, and his wife Leila endure in the aftermath of a loved one's death.
What a beautiful undulating mess of prose. Reading Native Speaker you will feel as if you are speaking several languages at once. Somehow Chang-rae Lee recreates Babel using english and a little korean to get him there.

Nevertheless, while the ebb and flow of syntax was very interesting to follow, this lacked much in terms of diction. The tone almost never changed, even at the height of the drama. It remained the same: melancholy, muted, and monotonous. The tone of the narrator was so careful
Alex Timberman
Aug 20, 2014 Alex Timberman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian-literature
What a fine book. Native Speaker won the Hemmingway award for being the best first novel of a writer. The author is Chang-rae Lee who is the creative writing professor at Princeton University. He immigrated when he was young to live in the United States.

I had my doubts that he could really identify with the Korean immigrant experience, since I too immigrated at an early age, but never really felt like I was on the outside looking in on American culture. I’m not sure if he did as well but the bo
Jun 19, 2014 Mei rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's exceedingly introspective with a constant narrative "circling" (as one character put it) to the past. I found the main character, Henry Park, to be inaccessible, which may have been the author's intent. We hear his thoughts and know his anguishes, but the point of the character is that he's closed off emotionally -- a trait further defined by his clandestine job. As the U.S.-born son of Korean immigrants, this native speaker's English is flawless, yet he struggles with the language to expre ...more
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Chang-Rae Lee (born July 29, 1965) is a first-generation Korean American novelist.

Lee was born in Korea in 1965. He emigrated to the United States with his family when he was 3 years old. He was raised in Westchester, New York but attended Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. He received his BA in English from Yale University and MFA in Writing from the University of Oregon. He worked
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“I'm a B+ student of life.” 18 likes
“And perhaps most I loved this about her, her helpless way, love it still, how she can't hide a single thing, that she looks hurt when she is hurt, seems happy when happy. That I know at every moment the precise place where she stands. What else can move a man like me, who would find nothing as siren or comforting?” 15 likes
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