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Aloft
 
by
Chang-rae Lee
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Aloft

3.49 of 5 stars 3.49  ·  rating details  ·  1,642 ratings  ·  197 reviews
Chang-Rae Lee, named by The New Yorker as one of its 20 writers for the 21st Century, has confirmed his place in that company with Aloft, a masterful treatment of a man coming to terms with his own disaffection. In two previous novels, Native Speaker and A Gesture Life, Lee, a Korean-American, writes of lives being not what they seem: in the first, the protagonist is an un...more
Published (first published 2004)
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Stephanie
Feb 2009 book club selection.

This book was very challenging for me to get through because I can't stand long sentences. It's really tough to remember what's going on if you didn't read this in one sitting, and it's tough to read this in one sitting because I didn't feel like anything drove the storyline. There's not so much a story as it is a glimpse in a period of a time in a 59-year-old's life. I suppose it's about family. But it reads like a journal with many topical detours that may have had...more
Becca
I bought Aloft for two reasons: first of all, it was on the bargain book table at Booksmith. But, more importantly, it is by Chang-Rae Lee. A few years ago, I read another book of his for my contemporary novel class, Native Speaker. For me, Native Speaker was one of those books that seemed like it was written just for me. It's easily one of my favorite books of all time. I didn't enjoy Aloft as much, but like Native Speaker, it tackles the themes of race and family and how those both factor in t...more
Erin
What a beautiful book. Aloft is the story of Jerry Battle, an almost-sixty partial-retiree who, by his own admission, floats above the problems of life through denial and self-centeredness. Chang-rae Lee doesn't make Jerry despicable, just pitiable, although there are moments in Jerry's stream-of-consciousness narration where he reveals sharp observational powers. These moments only serve to highlight his general laziness, though. The reader comes to know that Jerry could do a lot better by his...more
Mara
I guess the point of this book is that it's kind of apathetic and just sort of drifts along with no particular direction. Which is all well and good, except that it doesn't make for a very good read. It's sort of boring and annoying. In this book, all the characters are flat, and rather unlikeable. Due to the first-person narrator, we don't even get much of a sense of the other characters; they're just sort of background-noise to the non-story being told. The effect is that we never really feel...more
Rev. Nyarkoleptek
I never thought I'd suggest that an author dumb it down, but here I am. Aloft is not a poorly-written novel -- the exact opposite, actually; you can tell Chang-rae Lee's really making use of his educational background. But that craftmanship is the reason that I didn't buy the narrator's voice. Maybe I just don't travel in the right circles, but Jerry -- the lead character and narrator -- spoke too eloquently to be believable. He's a blue-collar working stiff! Why's his internal dialog sounding l...more
Empress5150
Lee is a Korean-American author so I found it very interesting that he wrote a tale about a fairly typical Caucasian American family. Turns out the “hero” of the book, Jerry Battle had been married at one point to a Korean-American woman and had two children with her. So, maybe not so unusual, after all. The story centers around Jerry and his immediate family plus his long-suffering girlfriend, Rita. Jerry’s retired from his family’s business (which his son is now running) and works part time at...more
Chris
This is a family drama---which usually means a "chick lit" type of book. However, make no mistake: this is a guy's book. Even more specifically, it is a middle aged guy's book. I doubt that I would have found much to interest me if I read this at 20, but at 50 it resonated as closely as stories told at a family reunion and at times I felt like an uncle grabbed me and said "Don't laugh, have you thought we could be talking about you?"

Jerry Battle would be unlikable if he weren't so honest. That i...more
Nick
This was sitting on my shelf for a long time so I figured I should give it a whirl.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I think Lee didn't get the protagonist's voice at all. The honeyed language he uses seems completely wrong for an Italian building contractor. Lee tries to rectify this by using slang like "my chubby" every once in while but he doesn't pull it off (at all). Having heard Lee read a portion of the book in 2002 (that's why I got the book to begin with, funny how taste's change)...more
Stephen
I just finished reading this book tonight. I've been putting it off until I realized he was publishing a new novel in 2008. I didn't want to fall behind. I don't know what to make of the book. It revolves around an Italian Ameican protagonist who basically is having to come to terms with the fact that he needs to more firmly ensconse himself in the lives of his family and friends.

Spoilers below with cast listing

Cast of characters:
Jerry Battle: protagonist, distant, mid-life crisis, enjoys flyin...more
Gerry Wilson
Loved this book. I heard Chang-Rae Lee read from his most recent book Surrendered at Lemuria not long ago. He read only a few minutes and then just TALKED about his writing and took questions. I think he's one of the most accessible, articulate writers I've heard in a long time.

One disclaimer: this book has what may seem to some people a "pesky" voice. The style is unusual--long, convoluted sentences--but it's the way the character thinks, and it fits his persona. I wound up loving it. It's a po...more
Kate
I couldn't relate to any of the characters. In the opening paragraphs the main character describes himself as "overcome by ennui" or some such phrase, and by god he means it. Sort of a coming-to-terms-with-mid-life story with no particularly pleasant people around to help the main character through it. As the reader, you're essentially taken through three or four critical weeks of this man's life, and in the end, I just wasn't sure if he really cared that they had been critical weeks and events....more
Andrew
much better than i thought it would be, given the fact that many consider this book to be his weakest work. though it is supposedly written from the POV of a 59 year old white guy, the consciousness of the story (if there is such a thing) is unmistakably Asian. it makes me wonder, is Lee capable of producing anything that is not imbibed with the Asian experience? it is a catch 22. Ishiguro was able to do it successfully, though i feel he was able in a sense, to really divest himself from his wor...more
Isla McKetta
I might have rated this book higher if it didn't make me so damned sad. Maybe I should have rated it higher because it did make me sad. Lee perfectly captures the frustration and miredness of a man in his later middle age--so perfectly that I awkwardly felt like I was reading my dad's journal or something. I kept wanting to tap the narrator on the shoulder and encourage him to go flying.

Lee takes a good story and fills it with keen observations on race in America and a society that buys "happine...more
Holly
Jerry Battle, a man who has largely escaped being too involved in his own life, is now facing retirement - but life goes on. His estranged (and engaged to someone else) lover is slipping away, his son is running the family business into the ground, and his daughter is making reckless and drastic life decisions in the midst of her engagement.

Reads very much like Richard Ford or like Richard Russo, but I struggled w/ the sentence structure. Too many asides separated by a sea of commas that you had...more
Jennifer
I expected to enjoy Aloft more than I did, based on my read of Chang Rae Lee’s Native Speaker (which was a wonderful). The protagonist, Jerry Battle, is a man on the brink of 60, who has lived his life by coasting above the ‘hard stuff.’ The book begins with him buying a small plane. When he flies, he can leave everything behind – just as he has his whole life. Through a series of events, he learns to look beyond himself and at the needs of his loved ones. .

Though the book is well written, it wa...more
Catherine
This is the second Lee book I've read where I had grave doubts, at the beginning, that I was going to enjoy the novel, but ended up completely captivated by the end. This was a remarkable tour of a character's mind, a character who describes himself on page 246 thus:

I haven't been much of producer or founder, nothing at all like Pop, or millions of other guys in and between our generations, rather just caretaking what I've been left and/or give, and consuming my fair share of the bright and new,
...more
Ron Charles
It's early yet, and the fall season will certainly bring some wonderful novels, but it seems safe to say that "Aloft" will be one of the best books of the year. Given the beauty of Chang-rae Lee's previous work, this isn't too surprising. In 1999, "A Gesture Life" appeared on many "best of the year" lists (including ours). Before that, his first novel, "Native Speaker" (1995), won several of those second-tier prizes that sometimes signal a great talent has entered the library.

Although the Korean...more
Kiwiflora
On reading this novel I was constantly reminded of the lyrics from Pink Floyd's 'Learning to Fly' - marvellous words that perfectly capture the magic of flying, aloft from the troubles and cares of life on earth below. And so it is for Jerry Battle, middle aged, middle class,
European man of south Italian descent, second generation small business owner with plenty of troubles and cares on his shoulders to keep him awake at night. And yet, until these small simmering problems reach a crisis point...more
Maggi
This book is about a newly retired man whose girlfriend has left him and who doesn’t really understand himself, his motivations or inner emotional landscape. He buys an airplane, hence the “aloft,” and begins to figure his life out as he comes to terms with his family issues, his former wife’s death, his adult kids, the illness of one of his children, and his career. He also has an aged father whose business he himself took over as a young man. Now his son is now mismanaging it and he is coping...more
Joan Colby
Lee’s dense and prolix style resembles a modern James. While this may discourage some readers, the generational story of the Battles (previously Battaglia) holds one’s interest. Jerry Battle, the protagonist, is a monument of passivity from which he occasionally emerges in bursts of generally misplaced energy. His emotional dilemma was acerbated by the suicide of his manic-depressive Korean wife Daisy, leaving two small children that Jerry raises with the help of long-time girlfriend Rita. As th...more
Judy
Apr 30, 2010 Judy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: fans of Chang-rae Lee

Lee's third novel was the one which brought him to my attention. It was widely reviewed with mixed reactions and I put it on my TBR list for 2004.

The story is once again set in the suburbs of New York City, but the Korean/American character is in the background this time. It is a family saga about Italians and their landscaping business created by its patriarch, a crusty old guy who lives in assisted living at the time of the novel.

Jerry Battle, the main character, took over the business from hi...more
Vaman
Richard Ford for the budding multi-culturalist near you. Nod knowingly at the actions of the mono, bi and tri-racial characters but don't let it a few drops of Korean blood define them because That's How We Read Now. Use the words Lapidary or Limn while describing the prose. Take a step back and realize that yes, this novel is actually the world's best swimming pool despite Battle's attempts to strangle himself with his self-conception, Lee won't let him. Thus, there's a satisfaction here when t...more
Sonia
I have to admit that a big reason this book interested me was because Lee wrote as the Other. He did a decent job with it, but I couldn't relate well with Jerry's character. I felt like Lee might have traded character development for a chance to write his thoughts about white interaction with American minorities -- and all of his observations were totally accurate and worth saying, obviously, but it still pulled me away from the story to read Jerry's pretended ignorance about Daisy's Korean cook...more
Frederick Bingham
I listened to this on CD. Performed by Don Leslie. The story of Jerry Battle of Long Island. He is in his late 50's. In a typical mid-life crisis, he purchased a small plane and learned to fly it. This is his way of escaping on occasion. There are a number of things going on in his life. He broke up with his long-time girlfriend a few months before and longs to get back together. His wife drowned several years before and he is still hurting from that. His daughter has discovered that she is both...more
Yulia
I'll always read what Lee writes, but I'm baffled by the critical praise this book received. His narrator is a retired landscaper who's Italian-American, but I just never bought that Lee was comfortable in this skin. He alternates between overwriting aggressively long sentences and using slang and tough-guy talk that just never seems plausible, as if the narrator has to remind himself of his role but continues to fall out of character. Some sentences were so tangled by their ambition, I'd find m...more
Heather
May 09, 2008 Heather rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: men in a mid life crisis. men thinking about their midlife crisis.
Shelves: fiction
So, I'm running a book discussion on this book, and it was the Long Island Reads pick of the year. I'm not completely sure of how I felt about it. Jerry Battle is retired from the family business, and spends his time as a part time travel agent and bought himself a little recreational plane.
There are a lot of things that happen, and there are a lot of people who Jerry imagines surrounding him--orbitting him. He is the center of the book, and the center of his own universe (as I guess we all are...more
Cheryl
Jerry (Jerome) is an old man (widower and then "dumpee") ruminating on his life and ideas. He uses the experience of flying as a metaphor for his relationship to the physical world and the important people in his life. Jerry is clueless to his failings in his long-term non-marriage to Rita. He is fully aware of his "People-shedding skills" but unable to change. His kids call him by his first name (what does that tell you about him?) and challenge him with their running of the family business and...more
Vghosh
Loved it! The book is all in the voice of Jerome, a 60 year old, Italian-American, contractor who lives out on Long Island, and his relationships with his son, daughter, and long-time girlfriend. His other books dealt more with the Asian American experience; with all of the characters and storylines familiar to anyone from an immigrant background. It was a pleasant surprise to hear Lee's narrative be so clear and compelling in the voice of a 60 year old white guy. The whole book felt authentic;...more
Helen
I approached this book with some hesitancy because the narrator's voice seemed unreal to me. In fact, even half-way through the book, I still felt that the author was trying (and failing) to have us believe in a smart, learned, and incredibly reflective guy who was not supposed to be anything of the sort (at least according to himself). However, the more I read, the more all those inconsistencies became irrelevant, and I got caught up in the sad and disintegrating life he inhabited. In the end,...more
Jeff
An enjoyable slice of a confused man's life, and an enjoyable read - especially if you grew up on Long Island. Jerry Battle is sure about some things and conflicted about most, flying above his own life, as many of us are wont to do. Lee has a gift for the language, and his style tugs you along through the twists and turns of Jerry's life.
Good enough for me to try another of his books soon.
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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...more
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Native Speaker The Surrendered A Gesture Life On Such a Full Sea Coming Home Again

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“And it occurred to me that in this new millennial life of instant and ubiquitous connection, you don't in fact communicate so much as leave messages for one another, these odd improvisational performances, often sorry bits and samplings of ourselves that can't help but seem out of context. And then when you do finally reach someone, everyone's so out of practice or too hopeful or else embittered that you wonder if it would be better not to attempt contact at all.” 3 likes
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