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A Gesture Life

3.76  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,889 Ratings  ·  263 Reviews
A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee is a taut, suspenseful story about love, family, and community, and the secrets we all harbor. It is the story of a proper man, an upstanding citizen who comes to epitomize the decorous values of his New York suburban town. Yet as his story unfolds, precipitated by events that take place around him, we see his life begin to unravel.

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Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 1st 2000 by Riverhead Books (first published September 6th 1999)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Charity
Apr 29, 2012 Charity rated it liked it
I almost love this book, but a few things keep me from it.

First, though, I'll tell you why I love it. I love the way the story unfolds. Chang-rae Lee takes his time revealing the story. It comes out in bits and pieces from the first-person perspective of Doc Hata, just as a person would generally reflect on his own life. A scene comes to mind, then something else jumps in and we follow that thread for a bit, then back to the original scene, which is now colored by the tangent. I luxuriated in th
...more
Sang Ik
Aug 22, 2013 Sang Ik rated it it was amazing
I find it interesting that so many people review books based on their judgement on much of what 'should' have happened or how the book 'should' have been written or even more interestingly, how a character should have been (e.g Dr. Hata was too unemotional, etc). I feel Chang Rae Lee gets the short end of the stick concerning much of this and I find it rather ironic that the character was so ingrained that one would be dissatisfied (my best example would be Coetzee's Disgrace), still, for the re ...more
Yulia
Jan 10, 2008 Yulia rated it liked it
i'd been told this was chang-rae lee's strongest novel, but after having read it, i was very disappointed and don't think it can compare to his previous work, "native speaker." i know the detached, impersonal tone is intentional in this novel, but after a while it gave me the chill of a morgue, the sense i was being told the story not of breathing individuals but of ghosts. that said, perhaps this was intentional as doc hata's past is haunted by people he can no longer reach. still, lee is much ...more
Jenny
Oct 20, 2007 Jenny rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
I think Gesture Life goes in my top five favorite books. I recommend it to everyone.

It's about a Korea-born Japanese-American man who is forced to face, and in certain ways is attempting to face, the legacy of a lifetime of refusing to feel. It takes place in the present and goes back and forth to various times in the past. It touches on horrible things that happened during World War II. It's also a thrilling, horrifying page turner, in the WWII sections. It deals with heavy issues, but deals wi
...more
Gail Goetschius
Aug 26, 2014 Gail Goetschius rated it it was amazing
A Gesture Life is a beautiful and subtle novel, one of the best I read this year. It is the story of "Doc" Hata , a Korean raised as Japanese who moves to New England after serving as a medic for Japan in WWII. Since childhood Hata has made fitting in and being accepted and respected the single goal of his "gesture" life. In doing so he betrays the three women who are most important to him.

Told in Hata's voice the "Doc" is a classic unreliable narrator . His inaccurate perception of events is a
...more
Steph
Feb 17, 2013 Steph rated it it was amazing
How does one fill a void for which there is no hole? This seems to be the question that Franklin Hata is asking as he reflects on his life and the lives that have intertwined with his. How surface acquaintances and weekday friendships can come so easily to a renowned and beloved member of a small, up-scale community, and how, for that same man, all attempts at intimate relationships meet with unparalleled disaster. For all of the various reasons that these relationships fail, one cannot help but ...more
Mirjam
Jul 17, 2011 Mirjam rated it liked it
I thought that this book started out strong, with beautifully lyrical prose...and then, although the main story was compelling, it kept getting tripped up by flashbacks that told a back story that initially had great potential but then turned into an annoying tale about a man who thinks he has honor but does not. I think the thing that was so annoying to me was that the author could really have done something with that back story. Soldier fancies himself in love with Korean "comfort woman," when ...more
Stacy
Dec 27, 2007 Stacy rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in international fiction
chang-rae lee is a quiet author whose narratives unfold delicately and fully; like a tightly-wound tea leaf when confronted with boiling water. A Gesture Life was deceptive in its simplicity, in its lulling me into this nuanced narrative of an old korean man living in a small middle-class american town.

i don't always know what to say about a book that i've liked, or what it was about it that "did" it for me. the first novel of lee's that i'd read was native speaker, and it was strong enough to
...more
Morgan
Feb 06, 2009 Morgan rated it really liked it
Shelves: home-library
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Julie
Dec 03, 2007 Julie rated it did not like it
My dislike and distrust of the subject matter trumps the well-written prose, unfortunately.

I have always had a problem with Chang Rae Lee's portrayal of Asian/Asian American woman. And, really, the tale of a Japanese man (whose character is marked by silent inaction) falling in love with a Korean comfort woman makes me want to throw something against the wall. Especially this book.
Dayna
Sep 26, 2007 Dayna rated it it was amazing
This was a heartbreaking book. A reserved Japanese store owner has settled in a small American town, raising an adopted Korean daughter. He appears to lead a regular working-class life. Later in the novel it is revealed that he was a doctor in the Japanese military during the war and had fallen in love with a Korean comfort woman. What is most painful is the conflict between the man's quiet exterior and the emotional/political life he has led. I admire this novel for addressing the continuing is ...more
Marie
Dec 14, 2015 Marie rated it liked it
http://mariesbookgarden.blogspot.com/...

A Gesture Life is another book that was really hard to get into, but the patience paid off. If it hadn't been a book group selection, I might not have stuck with it.

Franklin Hata was a man who was difficult to admire or respect, because he seemed cold and heartless. His stilted relationship with his adopted daughter Sunny just made me sad. He had a chronic difficulty in relating to anyone on a deep, true level.

Presumably, this was because of his difficult
...more
Daniel
Jun 16, 2014 Daniel rated it liked it
This was a tough read. The story unfolds at a slow pace and the narrator's accommodating personality is, at times, repulsive. Two-hundred pages in, I wondered why I was still reading, when there are so many other books out there. Any yet, I had a sense that Lee was going somewhere with this growing ennui and that I just needed to follow him there,

In the last forty pages or so, Lee brings the story to its culmination, and all of the time that he (and thus, readers) has devoted to Franklin Hata's
...more
Alida
Mar 22, 2014 Alida rated it it was ok
Franklin "Doctor" Hata (aka Jiro Kurohata), the protagonist, seemed like a very lost man. His distance from emotion and from certain events in his life, as well as his cool and observant nature, made the beginning of this book a different kind of reading experience. It seemed a bit like he was a somewhat uninformed or unsure narrator of his life instead of a living individual. Almost a third of the way into the book, I realized I was hoping that something was going to happen to shake him from th ...more
Steven Langdon
Nov 20, 2011 Steven Langdon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: super
Chang-rae Lee's novel, "A Gesture Life," begins sedately but gradually builds to a crescendo of tragic memories and personal crises that tears apart the seemingly bland existence of "Doc Hata," taking him to his earlier realization that what he had sought to achieve as a person was "something more than a life of gestures." Skillfully weaving together a set of separated strands of Hata's life -- the trauma of his passionate effort to save a Korean "comfort worker" during Japan's occupation of Bur ...more
Chana
Jun 14, 2009 Chana rated it it was ok
A elderly Japanese man who lives in a well-to-do town in America, who is well-respected in his community and has had success in business, tells his story in a soft voice of philosophical rambling. It is the kind of story where nothing much happens and when things do happen they are ghastly - suddenly and arbitrarily grossly violent and disturbing. All is not as it seems: first of all he is not Japanese, he is Korean. He has relationship problems and abandonment issues. Lest you think I exaggerat ...more
Alesa
May 02, 2011 Alesa rated it really liked it
Like an excellent gourmet meal, this book requires some digesting, even after you're done. It shifts back and forth between Japanese soldiers in WWII and their Korean "comfort women," to a small town on the East Coast where a former Japanese soldier has retired. It examines the super-polite, rather repressed nature of Japanese relationships, with the viewpoint character wondering about things he's done in the past, with considerable (if understated) regret.

After finishing it, I really wanted to
...more
Trish
Mar 03, 2010 Trish rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical, fiction, ww2
Chang-rae Lee is an amazing writer. I can’t remember the last time I read writing this good from a Contemporary writer, his prose are beautiful. The story itself is rather secondary to the writing, and honestly in a lesser writer’s hands I would have stopped reading it. The story line is basically two-fold, Franklin Hata’s experience as a Japanese military field medic during WWII where he falls in love with a Korean Comfort woman, and his life in an upper middle-class NY suburb after the war. Th ...more
Pamela
Mar 21, 2009 Pamela rated it it was amazing
I had this book for a long time before I read it, because I assumed it had been translated and I always hate that "lost in translation" thing. However, it was written originally in English - so. The story involves an elderly Japanese man who has settled in a small town without any other Asian people and is him retelling his life - but, that is about as clear as things get. As the story goes on, he keeps revealing things about his experiences during World War II, a little at a time, some very hor ...more
Erin
Mar 31, 2015 Erin rated it really liked it
I'm never so happy to be emotionally shattered as when I'm reading Chang-rae Lee's words.
Luke
May 25, 2015 Luke rated it really liked it
live it up
Bonnie G
May 25, 2009 Bonnie G rated it liked it
Recommended to Bonnie G by: Library shelf
A bit of a downer, but interesting exploration of the thinking of a man. The main character is hiding a lot from the reader, so it is a bit of a mystery, but I didn't really understand the man so it was hard to keep going at times. It was fascinating how removed from him his adopted daughter was, and I couldn't figure out if she had some detachment syndrome or if she detected something missing from her dad. Anyway, it was OK, but not one I would recommend.
chucklesthescot
This book was so boring that it nearly cured my insomnia. We got the extremely boring life of a Japanese man living in a boring town and doing virtually nothing on every page. Very exciting. We have a supporting cast of annoying and obnoxious characters who bugged the hell out of me, a plot that was going nowhere fast and the book was badly written and uninteresting. This is the second book by this author that I have endured and I hated both of them.
Amanda
Feb 01, 2016 Amanda rated it it was ok
The narration in this book was beautiful, and from the first few pages I felt like I had an unusually strong sense of the main character. I was captivated for awhile, but the story progressed so slowly that it wasn't long before I'd mostly lost interest. The topic of comfort women during the war was interesting to me, but by the time that section of the novel happened, I was entirely bored. Also, the first sex scene between the main character and his war-time love interest is rape - why is it wr ...more
Kat
Aug 26, 2014 Kat rated it really liked it
It starts out as a deceptively easy to read book, which later becomes at times unbearable, while still remaining easy to read. Amazing writing, amazing craftsmanship with regard to the plotting and timing of the revelations. I would have liked to know more about the story of Doc Hata's childhood (my ignorance regarding pre-war adoptions of Korean children by Japanese couples, but also who were his parents both biological and adopted), what drove him to adopt Sunny (trying to find a replacement f ...more
Delicious Strawberry
Jun 30, 2015 Delicious Strawberry rated it it was ok
I found this book to be really meh. I found this in a used bookstore, and the synopsis on the back cover sounded interesting to me, so I decided to get it. I love historical fiction, so this seemed like a good choice.

I found myself unable to connect with anyone in the story. The story happens more in the present than the past, and several things just didn't make sense to me. I really would have preferred for the story to focus more on the main character and his love, instead of the relationship
...more
Julie Whelan
Jun 25, 2014 Julie Whelan rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
John
Dec 21, 2013 John rated it liked it
A heartbreaking tale of an old man slowly deteriorating while he reminisces about his life as a soldier, father, and citizen. I liked the flashbacks, but the narrative that takes places in the present never really took off. Also, there was a little too much of the internal monologue here, and not enough dialogue.
John Jeng
Jul 22, 2015 John Jeng rated it it was amazing
I think my SAT verbal score would've been higher had I read this book in the past, but the story jags at your heart after you become an adult because the main character is basically perfect except that he's not. I mean, he's not an unreliable narrator the way you might expect, but you have to read in between the lines a lot because the main character is never deliberate. He says, "I think," "I suppose," and "I guess." a lot, not exactly in a wishy-washy sort of way, but because he's very respect ...more
Walt
Apr 29, 2014 Walt rated it liked it
I had mixed feelings about this book. There's no doubt that Lee's syle of prose and rhetorical skill is excellent, but the book is constricted by its slow pace and overly conscientious form of writing. Franklin Hata is irrevocably weak and reluctant, yet he still remains to be amazingly "persistent." Sunny's character is somewhat sparse, I readily inferred much of her defiance through her misconduct but sought a deeper explanation for it. However, I do commend Lee for his portrayals of the korea ...more
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PROSE 1 21 Feb 05, 2008 11:06AM  
  • Monkey Bridge
  • Blu's Hanging
  • Yellow: Stories
  • Bone
  • American Woman
  • Comfort Woman
  • Typical American
  • Once the Shore
  • A Dangerous Friend
  • China Men
  • Hunger
  • Everything Asian
  • No-No Boy
  • Clay Walls
  • The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker
  • China Boy
  • All I Asking for Is My Body (Kolowalu Book)
  • Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures
21050
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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“...whether the people are happy or not in their lives, they have learned to keep steadily moving, moving all the time.” 41 likes
“And though the implication is that I am the sort who is always careful and preparing, I that that's not right, either' in fact I feel I have not really been living anywhere or anytime, not for the future and not in the past and not at all of-the-moment, but rather in a lonely dream of an oblivion, the nothing-of-nothing drift from one pulse beat to the next, which is really the most bloodless marking-out, automatic and involuntary. [pp. 320-321]” 6 likes
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