Even though it is so totally not as good as THE JOY LUCK CLUB, this one had its merits. The bone motif was pretty good throughout, and even better upo...moreEven though it is so totally not as good as THE JOY LUCK CLUB, this one had its merits. The bone motif was pretty good throughout, and even better upon finishing the book and reflecting a bit. And as always, Tan does a great job dissecting the relationship between an Asian immigrant mother and her American daughter, but I did feel at times the story was a little forced, especially in the ending which seemed to be tied up far too quickly.(less)
I really didn't give this book a fighting chance. I borrowed the audio version from the library before a long solo car trip, but I only ended up liste...moreI really didn't give this book a fighting chance. I borrowed the audio version from the library before a long solo car trip, but I only ended up listening to about one-third of it on that trip. During that trip I was in and out of focus because I had a cold coming on, and then of course I didn't continue the saga until my next trip a few weeks later. This was not the best course of action for keeping up with Lee's complex chronology in which the story constantly folds in on itself, jumping from decade to decade as we are provided with the various elements of the protagonist's journey.
Because of my disconnected listening sessions, I found myself a bit confused by the various focal points of the narrative, most of which center on June Han, an orphan of the Korean War who is taken in by some well-meaning missionaries and eventually transported to the United States where she eventually becomes a successful antiques dealer in New York City trying in vain to contact her estranged son while she suffers from a terminal diagnosis of cancer. The vastness of the story is provided piecemeal, the opening focusing on the horrible deaths of June's family during the war and then shifting back and forth over the decades until the final chapter provides the final piece to the puzzle. This sort of postmodern construction certainly does not lend itself to anything but a sustained reading session, and I unfortunately didn't provide myself with this opportunity.
Lee's narration is definitely gorgeous, but the horrid imagery of the opening chapter which details one by one the devastating deaths of June's family turned me off initially. (This is my typical reaction to war literature though.) At the close of that first chapter, I was relieved at the shift to present day and the comparatively mundane struggles of June closing up her life in New York as she embarks on a journey to find her son in the face of her own imminent death. By the time that the story revisited June's childhood in Korea though, I found my attention waning and when she engages in a few romantic relationships at far too young an age with adults who should have known far better, I listened on with one eyebrow raised as I questioned Lee's intentions. Again, had I been reading the novel in regular intervals, I'm sure I would feel differently about the book, but the experience I had with it was definitely challenging and at times even tedious. While I'm anxious to read another of Lee's novels, I am now forewarned to avoid such sporadic readings!(less)
I want to enjoy reading Chang-rae Lee more than I do. His prose has a lyrical quality that is gorgeous at times, but his narratives leave me feeling a...moreI want to enjoy reading Chang-rae Lee more than I do. His prose has a lyrical quality that is gorgeous at times, but his narratives leave me feeling a bit cold and aloof. Native Speaker is a worthy read for a variety of reasons. It is an interesting character study of the Korean American man struggling with societal racial tensions and familial responsibilities. This is all overlaid with some late-developing political intrigue when the narrator and protagonist Henry Park begins working as a spy for up and coming New York politician John Kwang, an older Korean immigrant possibly making a bid to replace the white mayor of New York City. The interplay between Park and Kwang providing a great structure for the final hundred pages of the book, and I wish Kwang had been introduced as a counterpart for Park earlier. The many flashbacks to Park's past, including his struggles with his immigrant parents and a Boston-born white wife, could only have been strengthened with the scaffolding that the Kwang storyline provides in the late part of the novel. This would be a great book to read in a graduate seminar, or as a friend suggested to teach as a companion to Invisible Man, but I think I suffered a bit simply reading it for recreation.(less)
This dystopian story is written in Lee's trademark poetic prose, a beautiful style that enhances the folktale quality to the plural first person narra...moreThis dystopian story is written in Lee's trademark poetic prose, a beautiful style that enhances the folktale quality to the plural first person narration. Still, given the different world depicted here, the style makes the book that much more work as the reader navigates the societal elements he's playing with. This is a North America with three tiers of hierarchical life: the uber-elite are Charters who lived in walled cities and live a decadently luscious life of consumption; the Facilities are working-class centers similarly protected by walls but life there is characterized by endless toil in service of the Charters; and finally are the lawless Counties where violence, sickness, and starvation touches nearly everyone.
Fan, hailing from the new Baltimore fishery Facility B-Mor, is our heroine, searching valiantly (although at times somewhat passively) for the father of her unborn child who has disappeared due to his immunity to a ubiquitous epidemic of something that is suggested to be cancer. On her travels through the Counties and Charters alike, Fan's story takes many bizarre twists and turns, many that are surely rooted in the realities of our society's superficial commercialism, but finding this meaning required a lot of effort.
This is not nearly as gripping a dystopian story as the dozens of other popular in the genre, but it's an interesting meditation on the potential future of America.(less)
Mohsin Hamid is making a name for himself writing in the second person. I totally enjoyed the perspective in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and here he...moreMohsin Hamid is making a name for himself writing in the second person. I totally enjoyed the perspective in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and here he uses the style in a totally different way, depicting the story of a young Asian man's rise from poverty to wealth in the form of a self-help book. The man ("you") makes conscious choices to supposedly improve his life, choices that are augmented by fate and chance. His counterpart is a woman with whom he feels intimately entwined, a woman who makes her own dubious choices to escape her circumstances. As they each progress toward fame or affluence, the story exposes the corruption in "Rising Asia" that ironically forces individuals to compromise their morality in order to better themselves.
While I wasn't quite as entranced by the storyline as I was with The Reluctant Fundamentalist, this latest novel has plenty in it to keep a reader interested and turning pages.(less)