Anne's Reviews > The Surrendered
by Chang-rae Lee
by Chang-rae Lee
This one was a conundrum. The protagonist was a little more de-centered than in other Lee works, but still, everyone in this amplified arena was driven by a secret, or secrets, as per Lee's MO. Also, everyone very alienated. This is the first crack at a "world historical" story he's taken on(to my knowledge), as it begins at the tail end of the Korean War, with mass death, chaos, orphaned children. It's about the inner lives, tangential intensities that take over, and missed connections between 3 highly flawed people--Sophie, the addict missionary (addicted to smack, not just religion, tho the parallel is obviously begged, in pairing her with her husband's driven institution-building); Hector (I thought that name choice was a bit heavy-handed...) the beautiful-turned-tragic soldier; and June, the orphan-turned-cold mother who is dying, and whose decline is the narrative arc that frames the whole thing. I really admired the structure--it moves back and forth between different times and places: NY, countryside outside of Itaewon/Seoul, rural Italy...in search of another secret, a missing-link dandy son who has run off with his mother's money, to live a Ripley life ripping off rich people. Lee's protagonists are often cold--except Hector, who is more broken and resigned than cold. His language is a bit limpid for me sometimes, but I find interesting the way he works compassion without sympathy. The mysteries weren't that compelling to me, though--the missionary backstory connected to the childhood trauma of sexual awakening/pedagogy had real revisionism in it, I felt, that the book didn't cop to. Still sitting with it, and wondering if I short-sold it, and suspecting the general coldness is wrapped up there somewhere...
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