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Native Speaker

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  3,970 ratings  ·  345 reviews
Native Speaker is a story about a detective. It is also a wise and compassionate novel about the immigrant experience, about love, loyalty and the languages that define us.

‘What makes Native Speaker an important novel is no more complicated than this: it tells us the truth. Lee writes in a voice free of political bias about race fears... He writers of the fear of dilution,
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Paperback, 324 pages
Published June 18th 1998 by Granta Books (first published 1995)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Zöe Yu
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
Jackie
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
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Ann
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
aPriL eVoLvEs
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 one of those novels where it's strengths are also it's 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 American and Korean culture,
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Catherine
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
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Rebecca
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
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Mark

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
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Jade Keller
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
Laura
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
Judy
Apr 06, 2010 Judy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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Susan Kwon
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
Alison
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 immigrantish story, or the story of an unraveling marriage, and of course it is; it's even a good imm ...more
Julia
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
Daniel
"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.
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Kris
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
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Janet K
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Andrew
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
Alex Timberman
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
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Emily
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
Heather Colacurcio
I was assigned to read this novel for a course on 20th Century Literature of Immigration. While this is miles away from anything I would choose to read, I was quite surprised by how quickly I polished this off. Lee's novel focuses on the Korean immigrant. However, instead of sticking to the traditional immigrant narrative, Lee gives us the experience from multiple perspectives, narrated by Henry Park, a first generation Korean-American. Confused about his identity, we follow Park as he begins a ...more
Judy
Of the members in our bookgroup I was in the minority on this book - I thought it was a good read. The others in my bookgroup said they couldn't get into it and that they did not find Henry Parks (the narrator) likeable. One question that came up was who is the protaganist - Henry Parks or John Kwang - a point which I had not considered. The exploration of the many themes of "identity" was very intesting and thoughtful. Identity - is it defined by who you are; who loves you; what are you - ident ...more
M.C.
Native Speaker was a good read in that it was brief yet it failed to grab the attention of the reader. The novel has a concise plot that successfully conveyed the content of the story but fell short in revealing the depth of the conflict a "Yellow Peril" undergoes. The plot of the story made it difficult for the internal-struggles that minorities in the United States endured because it demands a protagonist who was aloof and illusive. A protagonist that fails to interact with the elements of its ...more
Carmen
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
Kristen
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
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
Aryana
I had to read this novel as an independent reading book for my AP Language and Composition class. I was very happy to have been able to choose which book, and looking at the options and reading little previews, this one caught my eye. I enjoyed this book and thought it was well written. I also liked how Henry was a spy and how the beginning of the novel talked about his wife and her leaving. I liked Chang Rae-Lee's descriptive words and how he put sentences together. Another reason as to why thi ...more
Ying
We are all spies in our lives, aren't we?

Henry Park, whose citizenship was a result of the accidental birth in a transpacific flight from Korea to America, had joined an underground private detective agency while his own private life was falling into turmoil and chaos. The agency, run by an American white male Dennis, employs solely spies who have an ethnic background because most of the clients are intended to sabotage "colored" (but not black) politicians that are creating discord in a "white"
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Judi Sachs
Author Chang-rae Lee introduces us to Henry Park, a Korean American man who is the voice of the book -- an extremely introspective and poetically wise observer of himself his family and his community. Park has spent his entire life trying to become a true American—a native speaker. He is struggling with his Korean heritage and how he fits or doesn't fit into society. I loved the author's writing, a first novel that had me wanting to remember whole paragraphs for their incisive and beautiful writ ...more
Lenny
Deftly written detective novel/ portrait of a flailing marriage. Chang-rae Lee is a somewhat showy writer; there's a superciliousness to his tone that didn't ever quite sit comfortably with me. The novel flows the best when depicting the breakdown of Henry and Leila's relationship, and is at its most heartbreaking and enigmatic during the chapters about Henry's father. The Korean immigrant experience is played out most vividly and sincerely in the smaller domestic moments. The housekeeper who re ...more
Cat
About a Korean-American man and his isolation from his wife, and how it relates to his relationships with his father, his job (espionage), the society he lives in. Amazingly written, believable, suspenseful - it gives voice to the undefinable emotions of being Asian-American, or any outsider.
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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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On Such a Full Sea The Surrendered A Gesture Life Aloft LIFE gestures. 1-2

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“I'm a B+ student of life.” 17 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?” 14 likes
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