Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Surrendered” as Want to Read:
The Surrendered
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Surrendered

3.66  ·  Rating Details ·  3,707 Ratings  ·  733 Reviews
Read an essay by Chang-rae Lee here.

The bestselling, award-winning writer of Native Speaker, A Gesture Life, and Aloft returns with his biggest, most ambitious novel yet: a spellbinding story of how love and war echo through an entire lifetime.

With his three critically acclaimed novels, Chang-rae Lee has established himself as one of the most talented writers of contem
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published March 9th 2010 by Riverhead Books (first published October 29th 2009)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Surrendered, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Surrendered

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
I don't think I've ever tried harder to like a book than I did Chang-rae Lee's latest, The Surrendered. But I think a book should pull us in to its world, make us want, no, need to know what happens to its characters. We shouldn't have to try to like it.

The Surrendered is a departure for Lee. It is, perhaps, his most ambitious novel to date, and for this, I applaud him. His previous three novels were all written in the first person and revolved around a rather displaced male, who was trying to
Linda C
Jan 18, 2016 Linda C rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2011
Well. Hard to say exactly what I thought about this book. OK-- I thought many parts were beautifully written. I also thought it was way too long, yet the character development was way too thin. For having so many pages, the author didn't seem to know what to do with them. Three stars is maybe a little harsh, but the book wasn't worthy of four, so, without a half star option, three it is.

The book started out strongly-- you really felt that you were in the rice paddies, on the train, starving with
Eugenia Kim
What happens to life after you survive the atrocities and randomness of war? Chang-rae Lee examines the deep intricacies of this question and its ramifications in THE SURRENDURED, portraying three survivors (Korean War, China-Japan War) whose lives mesh at an orphanage somewhere in South Korea after liberation. From that common crossroad, the lives of Sylvie, a missionary wife, Hector, a G.I., and June, a Korean orphan, are forever intertwined, shadowed by pervasive doom pitted against the human ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 22, 2011 switterbug (Betsey) rated it it was amazing
There are a few prized novels in memory that ransacked me raw and bare while simultaneously enveloping me whole and full. This is a glittering example of one, a slow burn of a book that ignites slowly, gradually, like kindling around a giant bole. For the first half of the book, I admit, I wasn't seduced. I wasn't taken or thrown or fiercely engaged. For approximately 200 pages I held on ambivalently. Even my reader's body language was telling--the pages at arm's length, the angle of my body twi ...more
Expanding Bookshelf
Jun 03, 2011 Expanding Bookshelf rated it liked it
In “The Surrendered,” Chang-Rae Lee examines the ruinous effects of the Korean War on two survivors: a child, June, who loses her entire family in the flight of civilian refugees southward down the Korean peninsula, and, an American soldier, Hector Brennan, caught in the same retreat.

“The journey was nearly over,” the book begins; a curious start for a long novel that is more about endurance than endings. During this first chapter, we’re introduced to June Han, a complicated personality who we f
This being a book of historical fiction I thought I would get a little more history than I did. There is very little in this book about either the Korean War 1950-1953 or the Japanese takeover of Manchuria in the 1930s. The main focus is the relationship between the missionary Ames Tanner, his wife (Sylvie Tanner), an American GI (Hector Brennan)and an orphan (June Han)set at a Korean orphanage in the aftermath of the Korean War. There is another thread, set in 1980s when June, now elderly and d ...more
Mar 02, 2010 Felice rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who read Ian McEwan, Amy Tan, Monica Ali or Kiran Desai
I think I have read one of the novels that will be on everyone's top ten list next fall, The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee. Are you thinking that given Lee's track record: Native Speaker, A Gesture Life and Aloft that I am going out on a tiny, tiny limb? Well I would agree with you if The Surrendered was the spare, wonderful portraits that those novels were, but it is not. Surrenderd is a Grand Scale novel. It is a quest for redemption, a search for survivors looking for forgiveness..

The novel i
Albert Yee
Dec 21, 2011 Albert Yee rated it it was amazing
Gut wrenchingly sad and modestly joyful in alternating scenes. A racing crescendo bounding toward and end, but backward and forward in time. I stretched the reading of this book out too far, but still felt its grip as if I had never put it down.

It's for people with a bleak outlook on life and think that there may not really be happiness outside of leaving this world. It's for people who think that the world is comprised of half truths and lies with certainty found only in the end.

This isn't a li
Tara Chevrestt
A DNF for me, but I made it page 280 so I will share my thoughts.. The beginning had me hooked. An eleven year old June is struggling to save her young brother and sister in war torn Korea.. There is train hopping, food scavenging, and torn off limbs.. WOW. Then June is living in New York and looking for her art thief son. Fascinating.

Then is switched to Hector. Hector is all about drinking, fighing, and fornicating. He is a former G.I. that worked at an orphanage that June resided at. The book
Aug 25, 2014 Mark rated it did not like it
War is hell, a fact that is on display in nearly every war-related piece of fiction that does not somehow involve John Wayne. Less often explored is the toll that war takes on the civilians who are in the affected areas. Still less often explored is the Korean War, which is important to the plot here.

The Surrendered could have filled a void and been one of those books that, while a work of fiction, kind of opens your eyes to something you never really thought about. It would have been this excep
Apr 11, 2010 Mark rated it did not like it
The book is all about human base desires and weaknesses. It suggests that even the best of people have horrible secrets. Which is fine but there seem to be no point to the book, like war is terrible and no one wins. It just seem to have one tragedy after another and suddenly the book ends with little to no closure on the plot.
Dec 16, 2010 Dee rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 10, 2010 Susan rated it really liked it
If you need Zoloft to get through the day and don't want to increase your dosage, run, don't walk, away from this book. It is about as far from a light, fun read as a book can be; the “serious literature” category is more apt.

The story grabbed me at chapter one. That chapter is about a little girl, June, who is trying to escape the horrors of the Korean war in 1950 and save her siblings as well as herself. Chapter two is the same person, sharp-edged and not very likeable, in 1986 New York, prepa
Julie Ekkers
Aug 14, 2011 Julie Ekkers rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I loved this book, which concerns the lives of two people, deeply impacted by horrors of war, in this case, the Korean War. There are other characters in the book, some of them quite major and others not, all of which are keenly depicted. I found myself alternately rooting for and despising the main characters. They are very, very real, and I was absolutely compelled by their trying to make their way through a life and make sense of themselves and their worlds in the aftermath of a war in which ...more
Carl R.
May 16, 2012 Carl R. rated it it was amazing
I just finished this one and am still trying to catch my breath. The Surrendered is not just a novel, but an experience. A powerful one. I read Lee’s Aloft and Native Speaker some years back, the same year he led my group at the Napa Valley Writer’s conference, whenever that was. Both are fine works, but neither approached the stature of this one.
We start with fugitives during the Korean war. A young girl, who eventually
becomes “June,” and the book’s central figure (or one of three, depending o
Feb 18, 2010 Jill rated it really liked it
This is a Pulitzer-prize caliber, epic and gripping novel that reveals the secrets and horrors that haunt those who are affected by war: an 11-year old war refugee, an American GI serving in Korea, a Presbyterian missionary who runs the orphanage, and more. Beautifully written, it packs a strong emotional punch; it focuses on the Korea War but the events could well take place in virtually any war. For those who revel in masterful literature with deeply flawed but authentic characters or for thos ...more
Jul 29, 2010 Meghan rated it it was ok
The review in the New York Times explains that this book is about the accretion of things - war, sadness, time - on people in a way that makes them who they are, often in a frustratingly unchangeable way. The book's language really hammers that point home; Lee made me feel like I was trudging through the book with the characters, slowly but forcibly making it to the end. For some people, this may have been profound and enjoyable. For me, it was tedious and exhausting and I didn't like my compani ...more
Feb 08, 2013 Larry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Had I stopped to rate this novel at the halfway point I'd have said it went off the chart, beyond a mere five stars. Such rich prose, heart-rending actions, characters I wanted to reach out to embrace, each one damaged by war and circumstance. Then, all of a sudden, the author slammed on the brakes and, just like one of his characters' driving habits, dawdled along for the next 200 pages, throwing in backstory after backstory for every character we encounter, including in one case the backstory ...more
Jul 10, 2011 L rated it liked it
I feel horribly guilty rating this book only a three. It is well written, compelling, and extremely thought provoking. But it is also probably the saddest book I have ever read and because of that I can't say that I "liked" it. The Surrendered is told from the point of view of three different characters: primarily June, a young girl who fled war torn Korea with her family to become a successful antiques dealer in New York; Hector, a soldier who is responsible for burying the dead, and comes to k ...more
Steve Woods
Jan 29, 2014 Steve Woods rated it it was amazing
This is a book about deeply damaged people and the ways by which they adjusted themselves to the experience of the tearing trajectories of their lives. As is the case with many whose early life is comprised of a barrage of unspeakable loss and hurt the cahracters in this story close themselves down such that the experoience of their lives is filtered through a very narrow aperture because that is all the exposure they feel they can sustain.

The early responses to twarted yearning for connection a
Dec 05, 2009 Kellyreaderofbooks rated it it was amazing
The Surrendered starts off with a young Korean girl named June trying to make her way to her uncle's house during the Korean War. She's been newly orphaned, and at the age of eleven is now the sole caretaker for her seven-year-old twin siblings. The Surrendered is also the story of Hector, a young American man serving in the army during the War. And then there's Sylvie, a middle-aged American woman who (along with her husband, Ames) is in charge of a Korean orphange right after the war. There's ...more
Alice Meloy
Apr 05, 2010 Alice Meloy rated it it was amazing
To what extent do we surrender to the trajectories of past experiences? When we move from a place of belonging to a place of not-belonging, what happens to our psyches?
June Han Singer, successful antiques dealer in New York City in the mid-1980s, is dying, but she has some unfinished business to resolve. She tracks down Hector, a hard-drinking janitor in New Jersey, and pays him to help her find her prodigal son. June and Hector have a shared past, and that past gradually emerges in this skillfu
Kelly Hager
May 08, 2010 Kelly Hager rated it really liked it
This book is about June, Hector and Sylvie, who are connected by their experiences during the Korean War and the atrocities each experienced.

This book jumps back and forth in time and from person to person, so it can be confusing. (If you pay attention, you'll be fine, but I'd recommend not reading this when you're tired or distracted.)

This is not a happy book. It's not as depressing as you'd think, but there are times when I had to make myself stop reading and walk away and do something else fo
Feb 13, 2010 Debra rated it it was amazing
Thank you Goodreads for letting me win this book through Firstreads. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Chang-Rae Lee has a wonderful writing style. The novel is about three people who are brought together because of the Korean war in 1950.
June is an orphan from Korea who meets up with Hector, a GI, who happens to be on his way to an an orphanage. Hector offers to take June there and at the orphanage they meet Sylvie who is the wife of the missionary.
The book goes back and forth in time while we
Beth Anne
Dec 28, 2011 Beth Anne rated it it was ok

this book depressed me. it was full of awful characters, who did awful things, with awful results. nothing redeemed these characters. as the stories unfolded, and you found out the true history of each of their lives, i disliked them even more.

it's hard to like a book where you dislike everyone.

true, i had some feelings of sadness for both june and hector (not so much sylvie) different times in the didn't overshadow the looming iniquitousness that i felt lived inside each o
Nov 26, 2011 Michelle rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, historical
It’s the feel horrible book of the year! I’m not one who minds a bit of tragedy and/or darkness in a novel, but this takes it to a whole new level. There is no redemption for the characters. People die, often senselessly always brutally. And every plot point ends in sweeping disaster. Despite all this, it’s not even the atrocities of Very Horrible Events (take your pick...) it’s the atrocities of everyday kind of living that are gut-wrenching. Some of the most heartbreaking scenes for me were no ...more
Mar 26, 2010 Colleen rated it really liked it
This book is both gorgeous and awful. The writing is (and I hardly ever say this) exquisite. Seriously, there is no other way to say it. You can't help but noting how beautiful his prose is even while cringing at what he is describing. That said, the darkness of this book was almost too much for me (and I do not shy away from dark). At points, it did feel a bit convoluted and overly dramatic. Over all-amazing but not an emotionally easy read.
I wrote this long and beautiful review about what this book meant to me. And then GR failed to save it and reloaded the page and it was lost. And now I'm too tired to try to rewrite it.

That said, to answer the critics, yes this book is depressing. In a lot of ways, these characters are unlikeable. But Lee's crafting of June is so real for me--she is Asian to the core. And in many respects, Hector is the shell of a GI who can't escape life as he watches everyone around die. They are two peas in a
Apr 07, 2010 Karen rated it it was ok
This is a story of three lives in Korea... Hector, June and Sylvia from 1950's to 1986 ... with many ... too many ... confusing flashbacks. It is on the best seller list so I pressed on to the finish ... but found it too overdone and wordy.
Oct 30, 2015 Iris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
im in the dining hall crying
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Muddled Feelings for Main Characters? 2 18 Sep 28, 2014 08:00PM  
What are some things you came away with? 1 15 Oct 13, 2012 08:21PM  
  • American Woman
  • Love in Infant Monkeys
  • All Souls
  • The Manikin
  • Rabbis and Wives
  • The Collected Stories
  • Leaving the Land
  • The Privileges
  • Drifting House
  • How to Read the Air
  • Mean Spirit
  • Yellow: Stories
  • War Trash
  • The Interpreter
  • At Weddings and Wakes
  • Hunger
  • Unlocking the Air and Other Stories
  • Persian Nights
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
More about Chang-rae Lee...

Share This Book

“What does the pilgrim hope for at journey's end? Her beliefs confirmed? Revelation? Or does she secretly wish that the destination never quite materializes, that it keeps receding, ever shrouded in the distance, all the more to feed an inextinguishable devotion?” 0 likes
More quotes…