Tuesday, March 2, 2010
An All Ready High Bar Has Been Raised
I think I have read one of the novels that will be on everyone's top ten list next fall, The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee. Are you thinking that given Lee's track record: Native Speaker, A Gesture Life and Aloft that I am going out on a tiny, tiny limb? Well I would agree with you if The Surrendered was the spare, wonderful portraits that those novels were, but it is not. Surrenderd is a Grand Scale novel. It is a quest for redemption, a search for survivors looking for forgiveness..
The novel is told in flashback and that works perfectly for this book. As you meet the characters you are charmed by their imperfections. You fall in love and dread the revelations to come. June is a Korean War survivor. At age 11 she and her family were forced by the War to abandon their home. They struggled to make it to safety at a relatives house but along the way June lost her family one by one Hector is also a survivor of the Korean War. He was an American GI immersed in the carnage until discharged. Blaming himself for the death of his Father back home and not having anywhere to go he stayed in Korea. June and Hector's lives intersect for the first time at a Korean orphanage. There they meet Sylvie. She and her minister husband run the orphanage. Sylvie has her own tortured past having witnessed the Japanese kill her missionary parents in 1934 Manchuria. All three people have already survived horrendous experiences leaving them more damaged then they realize. This leads to a time bomb relationship between the three characters.
I am not going to go beyond this small explanation of plot. This has given you the most basic of starting points. I could go on to describe more of the storyline but that list would do nothing to convey the vivid intensity of those same events written by Lee's elegant pen and broad range. My list would come off as melodrama whereas that kind of storytelling is completely removed from this novel.
I have been a fan of Chang-Rae Lee for years and from the moment I heard he had a new book coming out I was excited (thank you Penguin USA for the reader's copy!) to read it. The Surrendered is a whole new start to Lee's already accolade filled career. He has produced something with all the masterful control of his earlier introspective novels and added the complex and universal themes of survival, heroism and the psychological destruction's of war. Lee has taken his character's 30 year heartbreaking road to redemption and created an engrossing and affecting book. The Surrendered is a big, ambitious and triumphantly well written novel.