Read Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee Online


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,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, or self-loss... After so much racist posing, so much false restraint, Native speaker seems like a new kind of novel, the plainsong of unassimilated man, and in the murmur of his nascent voice is the soft clash of borders.’ Literary Review...

Title : Native Speaker
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781862071148
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 324 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Native Speaker Reviews

  • aPriL does feral sometimes
    2018-09-09 20:15

    This is a brilliant, thoughtful, subject-packed, angst-riddled, almost-noir, teeters-on-the-edge-of-soap-opera, and finally, an excellent literary first novel by a very wise writer. 'Native Speaker' is powerful and superb.It is one of those novels where its strengths are also its weaknesses.Ostensibly, this is narrated by a very depressed second-generation American, Korean-American Henry Park. Park is separated from his wife, separated from his son, separated from his Korean-born father and mother, separated from both American and Korean culture, but most of all, separated from himself.Park is a spy who works for a private business called Glimmer & Company. Glimmer specializes in personal betrayal and deceit: the operatives dig into a person's conversation, make friends with the target, even volunteer to babysit - and report what they find to paying clients, who can be multicultural corporations, foreign governments, or individuals with resources. Some of their targets are political activists, unions and journalists. Sometimes the targets die. The boss of Glimmer & Company, Dennis Hoagland, assigns the operatives to spy on specific targets by race. The spies report to an ordinary office in an ordinary business building with real estate brokers and doctors. The spies banter and drink together, but there is no real friendship. Park is closest to Jack Kalantzakos, a native Greek of retirement age, who is rumored to have been a CIA agent. Jack appears to like Park, but it is understood that the job always comes first.Park is as middle-class as any American, but he is also trained from childhood in the machine-cog behaviors of Asian cultures. In Korean life (per the authority of this book, written by Korean-American Chang-Rae Lee), demonstrative family affection is further down the list of important qualities than where Americans place it. Swallowing unexpressed hurts and demonstrating polite ritualized frozen respect are marks of a superior Asian person. Revenge is cold when it is expressed. The best revenge may be primarily through even more intense polite ritual. Since stoicism is also high on the list of proper behavior for Koreans, determined heavily by the necessities of saving face and hierarchical place, many disruptive family difficulties follow when Park marries a white emotionally-demonstrative American 'relief worker', Lelia.Lelia is a speech therapist, helping the foreign-born to learn English, but in spite of her knowledge of forming communicative words she can't understand some of the invisible fractures of communication between herself and her husband Park. Their son, Mitt, is a shaky bridge between them, an ecstatic little boy of positive energy, good looks and 100% American-trained by mutual agreement. Mitt does get a pass-through education in Korean manners on an occasional basis. (view spoiler)[ Unfortunately, Mitt is literally crushed to death, suffocated under a pile of dozens of little white boys. These small children are all of middle-class suburban mowed-grass-lawn American-born neighbors, playing the game of 'pile on'. Poor Mitt is literally smothered by metaphoric American culture and by the hopes of fitting into America by his Korean father and white mother.(hide spoiler)]Lelia makes a tremendous effort to understand Korean culture, but discovers without a common cultural background she has no way to get an explanation for events she sees. I think even if she had been able to understand the cultural nuances, there would still have been shocked horror on both sides. As a native American, I cannot understand the rigidity of these formal Asian families. I see it, I've read about it, I understand that the shame of breaking taboos can be such that people commit suicide over some kinds of 'loss of face', but it is completely beyond my ability to really 'understand' some of the things defined by 'face'. Americans have rigidities of keeping face, too, just not so many or such strident feelings about it, generally (unless you are a neo-Republican or a Fundamentalist or Tea Party member). To me, 'face' is a huge waste of time and lives, and a source of endless agony in a world where there already is plenty of that. Of course, traditional Asians, I've read, see us as impulsive, childish, selfish bigots. All of us, whatever race we are, are probably right in some of our general biases and stereotypes, but wrong in the importance of them as contributing factors to any general success or failure. From where I'm standing, I think despite this book whining on (or whinging -I kinda like the British word whinging) for 350 pages about the pain and disassociation of being a half-whatever racially and culturally, the underlying message is that our genetic, cultural and social baggage is ONLY baggage. In the end, cultural baggage is only overwhelmingly heavy if we pack it too tightly with significance. We can throw out what we don't need, or tailor things to fit better. If we try to carry a weight beyond our abilities or metaphorically wear suits that fit our father's bodies, being emotionally crippled, smothered, and 'missing the boat' is sure to result. (view spoiler)[ Lelia moves back in with Henry, mostly because their love for each other overpowers Lelia's mind about divorce, and because Henry has evolved beyond his job with Glimmer & Company. Park has a huge 'glimmer' of enlightenment after discovering the revengeful ugliness inside one of his spy job targets - Kwang. Kwang is supposedly a family man, social activist and a 'good' politician. Park also finally sees that the emptiness of empty people like the spies who routinely betray everyone they meet cannot possibly lead to any emotional fulfillment or satisfaction. Of course, Park is not ready for this message for most of the book, wanting only interior oblivion and a living death for himself. He pretends to not touch and to be untouched by people's concerns, floating above all trouble by pretending he has no allegiances or socially ethical concerns. His choice of working for the deeply disturbing spy agency, which involves getting close to Asian individuals who inevitably disclose secrets about personal weaknesses or ethical lapses, then typing up the dirt he uncovered and turning the information over to third parties in order to destroy the sometimes wonderful and heroic individuals, is glided over by Park. If you really think about this, this is exactly the kind of job which gives a kind of relief from the mental pressure a severely repressed, self-hating Asian and emotionally damaged man would have. This spy job would give Park the surface dulled-numbness he was seeking, while also unconsciously expressing his contempt and hatred for rigid social conventions. However, like most rage-based but suppressed emotional decisions, Park was throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The death of one if his targets, Dr. Luzon, woke Park up to awareness that his job had consequences. Another target, the Korean Kwang, and Kwang's secrets, and their half-exposure, helped Park separate the differences between the hidden real love/support of his own traditional Korean father and the false affection/support of Kwang. Park could finally sort out what had been all mashed up together inside himself - Korean culture, his love and respect for his father and mother, respect towards and disgust with Korean-ness, and the pain of American half-hearted acceptance of Asian Americans because of differing facial features despite whatever other Americanized qualities.(hide spoiler)]. Park was working for Glimmer & Company before he met Lilia, benumbed. The job eventually poisons his relationship with Lilia because of its policies for enforced secrecy, but Park felt unable to quit the job. He was making a choice by not making a choice. The birth of his son Mitt temporarily put the job on a back burner as an issue between Lilia and himself, but it comes roaring back later. For Lilia, the intolerable issues were not Park's Korean race or the traditions of his culture alone, it was Park's inability to communicate his inner life in any language. (view spoiler)[I think Park used his job to hide the guilty feelings he was experiencing for betraying his father by hating/loving him for his 'Koreaness', and his friends from Korea. Cultural roles encouraged denials of any open human emotions between them. Henry really needed therapy, but instead he chose a numbing, creepy, soul-killing job. It was completely plausible that his damaged psychology meant he did not turn in Kwang for murdering his adopted 'son' Eduardo. No doubt this incident helped free Henry from his internal demons by both releasing him from his unconscious guilt about hating his father, and feeling as if he required punishment for that.(hide spoiler)]This is a truly a psychologically complex and interesting read. The exploration of the intersection of traditional Korean immigrants who wish to live under SOME American cultural traditions and the more complete assimilation by their American-born children, with the additional difficulties of rejection from white Americans, is easily made into universal themes by the author. Lee focused the book on Park's initial grasping at American middle-class, educated values - marrying him off to an American white woman, living in a suburban home, going to an American college and having Americanized friendships. Mitt, his beloved and adored son, was being raised completely American, with no traditional rituals between him and his parents. It made it easier for this reader to 'understand' Henry. However, I think that Henry, in doing such evil spying even if he never killed anyone, he certainly was providing bullets for the weapons of others who did not believe in American idealism. Yes, Henry probably was unconsciously paying back America for hurting him. Yes, he was as well slapping away his Korean heritage. Henry having a twisted inner psychology Is well established - but I couldn't quite buy that sensitive and tortured Henry could be this insensitive for the many years he worked as a spy, causing possible assassinations or blackmail, and derailing freedom movements. This kind of hate eats up the person in time. Henry never fell apart that way, nor was he fearful until the end. Eh. It was a minor quibble.I really liked this book, but it didn't always fit together. Is it a domestic story about a son and his father, interracial marriage and cultural assimilation? Mostly. Was it a political noir? Almost. A case can be made it fit in some elements which damaged the messages Lee wanted to talk about. The thriller inclusions, brief as they were, felt wrong. But I liked it. So perhaps it should be a four star, but I thought it was a genius effort. So there. Five stars.

  • Zöe Yu
    2018-09-12 00:04

    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 eyes and even in eyes of my people, but also because some of his insights go so deeply into your heart. Once you are in a place with people, generally speaking, there will be a hierarchy among them. People will automatically divide themselves into groups according to their race, skin colors as well as their intelligences. Even I say I belong to neither of the groups, then I belong to those people whom belonged to none of the group. Then people start to fight, with their minds. The way he married a white woman, and in this -we-all-familiar-pattern, he is the one who wants his son lives in a singular world, only deal with pure native English, and hoping this could balance the half round Asian face. He is the one who hopes more whiteness of his son. But this is the same. It is all the same for every immigrant stories. The same version. In the melting pot, your language is melting, your way of behaving is melting, but not your race. You still have the Asian look. Maybe the next generation. the next next one. And he is the spy in a spy novel. There is no all-knowing detective. Nobody knows what's going on. And he himself is also a victim. Being a spy is learn to betray others as if it is just you are breathing air. Do it like a routine. But what about betray your own people. Even he trash them. People could have some strong opinions about their own country, and that is why they choose to leave for another country. But to betray it, and to betray your own father (father figure), this is a hard struggle for him. It's like to see his own son Mitt died. That is his punishment. Mitt finally betrayed his father by dying.

  • Ann
    2018-09-17 00:25

    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 mountain, there are more mountains."

  • Rebecca
    2018-09-20 17:02

    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 died and my wife cut off all her hair. The baby died and my wife had an affair. Can we muddle through? If any of these felt real or deeply felt in the narrative, it might be convincing, but none of them did.

  • Jackie
    2018-09-03 17:10

    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 took the (stereo)typical Immigrant/Ethnic Story format and injected something new into it: the fact that the main character is a spy. And not a Korean spy spying on American, or an American spy spying on Korea. He is an Korean-American spy spying on other Americans. That was quite something.I also enjoyed the discussions of language and speech. I was surprised to find myself liking his wife, the Scottish-American speech teacher. Her character was another example of Lee taking a stock character and breathing new life into it.Lee looks at race in America in a complex way, and I think in the end that's the reason I appreciated this book so much. All of the characters are smart, but none of them are smart enough to understand race. Maybe no one is.

  • Alex Timberman
    2018-08-21 00:16

    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 book definitely echoes those sentiments. It is a book about loss, alienation, and ambition. It is also an ode to the diversity of America and the immigrant experience. And the author touched all these humanist experiences in the guise of a spy story. An excellent book, Chang-rae Lee has his way with words. It is a pleasure to read, very professional, and interesting throughout. Recommended for savory reading.

  • Amy
    2018-09-11 19:06

    A challenging look at race, self-identity, assimilation (or the lack thereof) and being stuck in the interstices. Lee writes lovely prose (maybe just a wee melodramatic/bogs down at times) but a fast read despite its emotional heft. He doesn't shy away from the awkwardly painful/un-pc -- although really, the wife is a sometimes. I mean, who would EVER refer to their husband as "yellow peril: neo-American"????

  • Catherine
    2018-09-16 21:12

    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 his work becomes clearer and the ways in which his corporation uses him and is used - then it's hard to put down.There's so much to contemplate about race in this book, about relationships between African Americans and Koreans in New York, about the fortunes of recent immigrants, about language and meaning. We see the Civil Rights movement from the outside in - a non-white person who can pass as white, but who has so much in common with the people he sees marching - and, thrown into the heart of a modern political campaign, we're forced to consider where Civil Rights has taken us, where it still needs to go, its failings, its hope.I loved the resolution of the many fraught, complex storylines in the book, of the awkward healing and the fact that no character is wholly good or bad, but all are shaped by history and culture, recent and years' past. I suspect this story will be on my mind for days to com - what a wonderful gift.

  • Katie
    2018-08-26 17:23

    So fortuitous that I read this now. It's timely. It's such an incredible feeling to read the right book at the right time.There were plot points that I felt didn't deserve five stars. The writing definitely does, and this was a case where the end of the book redeemed the weakness of any earlier plot lines I felt dissatisfied with earlier. The book definitely gets stronger and more compelling as you continue reading. In any case, despite its few weaknesses, it was the first thing I've finished this year that I wanted to sit down and rate 5 stars.

  • Judy
    2018-09-09 18:00

    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 city and eventually moved his family to the suburbs. When the story opens, Henry is working as a spy for a private espionage company and is married to a white American woman. They have lost a child, their marriage is crumbling and Henry has recently survived a disastrous assignment at his company. In other words, his carefully created life is in shambles. Henry is a very careful man in most respects though he has a penchant for danger.This is not ordinary story about the strain of a lost child on a marriage however. Nor is it a second generation immigrant tale nor a spy thriller, though it is all of those things. It is the weaving of these three narrative threads, as well as Lee's corruscating style that places the novel way above the norm. Aside from probably being ahead of his time, the novel could have won a Pulitzer Prize, because it is a quintessential American story for the 21st century in the way that Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is.I was infatuated on every page, wanting to read as fast as I could but lingering to savor sentences. Henry Park has a plethora of issues which center in an inability to express his inner feelings in spoken language, an understandable weakness for a person raised between two languages and two almost opposing cultures. His wife Lelia, another stunningly created character, is a speech therapist who is defeated by her own husband's speaking deficiencies.Presumably Chang-rae Lee is intimately familiar with his protagonist's troubles. Happily for us readers, he has overcome them, at least as a writer. Rarely does a novel so fully insert me into the lives of its characters. Every time I open a new book, I hope for this type of reading experience and in Native Speaker I got it.

  • Mark
    2018-08-26 19:58

    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 pathological hiding have played their part as well.During his personal crisis, Henry has become too emotionally involved with one target, a Filipino psychiatrist, and now he is being put to the test by his enigmatic, dangerous boss, who has asked him to infiltrate the budding mayoral campaign of a New York City councilman, John Kwang.Along the way, Henry works to get back together with his wife Lelia, to come to terms with his complicated feelings about his birth family, and to balance his admiration for Kwang with the job he has been asked to do.While there are some dramatic plot developments along the way, as Kwang faces increasing opposition despite his charismatic rise, the real purpose of Native Speaker seems more atmospheric and philosophical.Lee is a skilled writer and is expert at dealing with the nuances of inheritance, assimilation, difference and characterization. But for my taste, there were a few too many atmospherics in this novel, particularly in Henry's relationship with his wife. For much of the book, I was never quite sure why they were on the outs and what it would take to get them back together.Still, Lee is such a good writer and is so erudite in the ways of life and people, this is well worth the read.

  • Laura
    2018-09-02 23:23

    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 Korean culture lives on in that funny American way... the way I love -- in pieces, slightly tattered, but that much more alive, rooted, proud, lucid, something you can grab onto and let slip away in the same moment -- how can you not love something with so much at stake?Lee reveals himself frankly in this book, uncomfortably at times, when you're unsure you want to know, that you want to be layered down with that. In a word, the book is forlorn. In a character, it is Eeyore. Park has lost his poor tail, so caught between two worlds - two cultures, separated by things much deeper than the Pacific - and then surrounded by grief - originating from his father, his son, his wife, his job. Yeah, that can get to be a little much. You never feel that Park has really reconciled himself to his surroundings, but maybe that's the point. Maybe issues like that - issues of identity (who are you?) and belonging (who loves you?) and tradition (what are you?) and necessary change (who do you want to be?) - are never resolved. they just are there, reminding us of our humanity. Lovely.

  • Jade Keller
    2018-08-25 17:06

    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 loyalties between the America he longs for and the Korea in his blood.In terms of navigating a world of conflicted identity, this book speaks more cogently than any other I have read. Lee's writing is, as ever, beautiful and haunting, with wonderful lines like: "Sometimes you have to meet the parents to figure out what someone really looks like" and "I want to call the simple Korean back to him the way I once could when I was Peter's age, our comely language of distance and bows, by which real secrets may be slowly courted, slowly unveiled." I have a tendency to highlight beautifully written sentences and my copy of this book is covered in the marks of my pen. While it doesn't quite sink right into your gut and marrow the way "The Surrendered" does - which, I think, shows the trajectory of his growth as an author - "Native Speaker" is a good read to take slowly, in quiet moments. For anyone who too has felt themselves caught in the doorway, able to see both sides, but not quite enter, I think this book will resonate with you.

  • Alison
    2018-08-31 00:12

    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 immigrant story, or the story of an unraveling marriage, and of course it is; it’s even a good immigrant story (and as an immigrant myself, I found it harrowing, in a good way). But I think the more interesting reading is to read it as a self-critiquing noir, because it’s a GREAT noir. To use the noirish narrative of the spy who’s alienated from his own identity, creating a new one to try to win somebody over–and matching that with the immigrant narrative, to ask in what ways immigrants are forced to become spies and impostors within the infiltrated culture as well as in their personal lives…. That’s great classic noir material, and the logical consequences of these investigations–which is to say, the surprises–keep piling on till very nearly the end of the book.!

  • Carmen
    2018-08-27 18:18

    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 pearls of wisdom. I feel bad giving a negative review but, of course, there are plenty of people who love this book, maybe I'm just missing something..

  • julieta
    2018-09-03 23:01

    I loved reading this book. It took me a while to really get into it, but I love the fact that it describes the experience of being an immigrant so well.I like it much more that the Junot Diaz book everyone loves so much, and I think speaking of the experience, of starting over in a country that is not yours, is an important one. And if it is written as beautifully as this one, better still.

  • Jared Della Rocca
    2018-09-03 21:19

    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 failure, is leaked in drips and drabs throughout the novel, so you never feel like you have a clear hold. By making it so amorphous, you lose about 50% of the novel.In the other part of the novel, the immigrant experience, Lee utilizes Park's current assignment as well as his relationship with his wife and memories of his childhood. To clarify "immigrant experience", Park was born in America and is a first-generation citizen. He was raised in a Korean household, though, and feels set apart from both cultures. I clarify the point because immigrant experience tends to call up images of adult immigrants, as opposed to natural born citizens. But Lee's point appears to be that Koreans are quiet, internalize emotions, and thus make tough spouses. But in reaching those conclusions, I kept asking myself, "Am I being racist, or is that really the point he's making?" I just never felt comfortable with the stereotype he appeared to be creating.So, overall, a whiff on this book. There are better spy novels and better immigrant experience novels. I wouldn't waste time grabbing this one.

  • Patrick McCoy
    2018-08-31 21:12

    A friend recommended Native Speaker by Korean American writer Chang Rae Lee, so I picked it up in a used book store and forgot about it. Then when I read Gary Shyteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, he thanked Chang Rae Lee for helping him become a novelist and that reminded me of the book on my shelf, so I picked it up read it. Both Shytengart and Lee have written New York novels about identity in what is probably the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Both novelists are also mainly concerned with identity-what is an American, why is it important to keep a connection to one's parent's culture. Lee has written an intense novel about the would-be assimilation of a Korean American who still doesn’t feel as if he belongs. This is mostly due to the personal tragedy of the death of his young son that does little to give him a foothold, nor does his job as a corporate spy help him understand who he truly is. These things make him more of “an invisible man” than give him little sense of self-identity. I was totally drawn into the world of Henry Park and felt like a tourist in his life living in New York and learning how his Korean heritage effects him and view of the world. It is unsurprising similar to the Japanese worldview that is inspired by Confucian thinking with a focus on the family, sacrifice, and respecting elders. I was surprised by how much I liked this novel and was drawn into the world created by Lee.

  • Julia
    2018-08-26 21:24

    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 the immigrant/child of immigrant experience (such as Indian-Americans Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, etc., which are exquisitely wonderful in their own right), but I don't know much about Korean culture (right, culture CAPITAL C and all that, too long to go into in a goodreads review), so a Korean-American experience, not to mention a male Korean-American experience in particular, was really an interesting one to feel I was gaining insight into. In some ways, Lee's writing reminds me of Marilynne Robinson's. All of sudden, you realize that a page and a half ago you've been smacked between the eyes with a heartbreakingly beautiful insight, rendered into concise yet poetic language. Count me as a big fan. Four starts instead of five only because it took me (and possibly entirely due to my own halted reading pace) a while to realize all that this book had to offer.

  • Kristen
    2018-08-28 19:04

    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 particularly likable. It's got an engaging plot that keeps you reading in the hopes of a great ending, but the ending doesn't deliver. I'd pass.

  • Kris
    2018-09-15 23:24

    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 thought of 'konglish' - broken English interspersed with Korean - and in many ways strives to be a native speaker. He marries a white woman, a blue blood from Massachussets (her dad's name is Stew); he goes to the best schools; he masters the pretensions and prejudices; he thinks he's conquered the world he isn't sure will accept him. It's only later in life, broken and reflective, that he begins to question whether he's betrayed himself and his upbringing. As a private spy, Harry finds himself in the midst of a heated mayoral campaign acting as a foot soldier for the venerable, John Kwang - a rising Korean American councilman from Queens. As he tries to uncover for himself what's gone awry and what his snooping will produce, he finds himself in a curious situation. Left unsure of what it means to betray or to remain loyal. ---'But I and my kind possess another dimension. We will learn every lesson of accent and idiom, we will dismantle every last pretense and practice you hold, noble as well as ruinous. You can keep nothing safe from our eyes and ears. This is your own history. We are your most perilous and dutiful brethren, the song of our hearts at once furious and sad. For only you could grant me these lyrical modes. I call them back to you. Here is the sole talent I ever dared nurture. Here all of my American education.'

  • Daria
    2018-08-28 19:19

    I veer between three and four stars. It didn't leave me unaffected; there is a grace in Lee's style, and from the very first pages one settles into the prose, trusting its soft, contemporary elegance. But overall, Native Speaker seems to be a great, absurd fiction spun as cover for a memoir - as if the more melodramatic the plot (and here it is far too melodramatic, consciously so), the easier it is to mask a true story. But the book fools no one. Lee could have written his memoir alone, and it would have resounded with the same critical success. But maybe the fiction of John Kwang is necessary for Park-read-Lee, and the fantastical narrative is, by extension, necessary. Maybe the fantastical narrative is one we know best, anyway: the fiction of America. "Like John Kwang, I am remembering every last piece of them. Whether I wish it or not, I possess them, their spouses and children, their jobs and money and life. And the more I see and remember the more the story is the same. The story is mine. How I come by plane, come by boat. Come climbing over a fence. When I get here, I work. I work for the day I will finally work for myself. I work so hard that one day I end up forgetting the person I am. I forget my wife, my son. Now, too, I have lost my old mother tongue. And I forget the ancestral graves I have left on a hillside of a faraway land, the loneliest stones that each year go unblessed.""...I hear her speaking a dozen lovely and native languages, calling all the difficult names of who we are."Pretty - the last line, especially touching. And yet, a part of me, immigrant, optimist, thinks... But don't be so melodramatic, Lee! The immigrant story has been worn to the bone. It has indeed been worth so much drama, it is worth so much drama - and because of this, it has become the most undramatic American story of all.

  • Brian Grover
    2018-09-03 17:17

    On Such A Full Sea is probably the only dystopian novel I've read in the last five years that I've enjoyed, so I tagged Lee as an author I wanted to read again. This, his debut novel, is his most acclaimed work, so why not?It's the story of a Korean-American man living in New York City named Henry Park. Henry is struggling with his job, which is some weird CIA-esque position where he gains the confidence of various people and files reports on them. He's also still recovering from the tragic death of his eight year old son, which has left his marriage a shambles to boot.His new subject is a popular Korean-American city congressman from Queens who appears to be on the fast track for mayor, and much of this book is a meditation on what it's like to be Korean in America; the shared and dissimilar experiences of these two men. I found those passages to be really, really compelling. Henry's personal interactions, both with his wife and his colleagues, rang kind of hollow to me, but I still really liked this book, for the reasons above. It reminded me a lot of The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (minus the war), but I think it's smarter and more interesting than that book, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction a few years ago.

  • Susan Kwon
    2018-09-09 21:17

    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." He struggles in a father-son relationship because of two different cultural sets between his home's and outside of it. He appears to be rigidly, strongly, and politely disciplined: good man, raised by Confucian Korean custom. However, Henry struggles understanding his father. The relationship between him and his American wife describes what's like walking on the thin ice. They seems to be two parallel lines never meant to meet. In broader plot scheme, Henry Park reveals how immigrants live in America where claims for "America for Americans!" are getting severe. Here are quotes to brood:"And the more I see and remember the more their story is the same...When I get here, I work. I work for the day I will finally work for myself. I work so hard that one day I end up forgetting the person I am. I forget my wife, my son. Now, too, I have lost my old mother tongue. And I forget the ancestral graves I have left on a hillside of a faraway land, the loneliest stones that each year go unblessed.""My ugly immigrant's truth, as was his, is that I have exploited my own, and those others who can be exploited. This forever is my burden to bear.""You are surreptitiousB+ student of lifeemotional alienYellow peril: neo-AmericanOverrated...strangerfollowertraitor"

  • Janet K
    2018-08-26 19:00

    I am at a loss for words.For so long, I winced at the idea of reading Native Speaker. Native Speaker being my idea of Woman Warrior or Joy Luck Club for Korean Americans. Native Speaker being a story about a hyphenated American, struggling with a dual identity, trying to assimilate into a society that alienates you. I was so wrong. Somehow, Native Speaker touched me, spoke to me in a sincere, truthful way.All the characters had enough complexity to keep me very interested. Henry Park was consistently surprising. He departed from all the stereotypes found in Asian-American literature. He wasn’t timid, passive, asexual. He was mysterious, witty, sexual, and soulful. His wife, too. Lelia could easily have been some two-dimensional trophy white woman, but she wasn’t. She was odd, intelligent, and earnest. This story is not about a Korean-American trying to find his place in America. He is there already. In so many ways, Henry Park is a man that is not entirely identified by his Asian-ness. He could be a man of many colors. I do like this. At the same time, his story is firmly grounded in his Korean background, his father’s story, his embedded cultural ideas. I like this, too. This story is does not focus entirely on this man’s identity as it relates to his race in America. In fact, he’s a regular man, with a rather interesting job. The story focuses more on troubles at work and home. Pretty standard on the surface.It seems like I like this book for many things it is not. That’s true. For what it is: Chang-Rae Lee is, no doubt, a very gifted writer. Korean-American or not. I would highly recommend this book to anyone. It’s one of my new favorites.

  • William
    2018-09-17 22:26

    Packed with all the emotions of angst, anxiety, anger, and everything that comes along with exploring what it means to 'assimilate' into the wonderful 'melting pot' that is 'multicultural' "liberal America" (read: white supremacist), Native Speaker does its job. It is a novel of layered meanings with meanings beneath meanings. It attempts to address race relations, the contradictory American myth, and the violent realities of people of color and immigrants in white America. Yet, the novel written by a Korean American himself (shoutout to POC authors for doing the important work of getting these critical voices out into the mainstream), seems to not be able to keep up with its aspirations. As the reader, I felt bogged down and had difficulty turning the pages at multiple points during the novel. It was simply the commitment to finish this book that led me to the final page. In other words, I did not love it. Whether it be the writing itself, the plot, or the characters, nothing drew me in. The plot itself, despite the novel being a work of fiction, felt too contrived and forced. Perhaps, I felt this because the novel markets itself as speaking to the stark realities of the Asian experience in white America. It was a mismatch. The foundations of the plot felt implausible, unbelievable, and appeared to be based in nowhere. Don't get me wrong though. I liked this book. I just did not love it. And if you have never read a book by an author of color ... use this book to please change that because you are missing so much.

  • Andrew
    2018-09-06 21:23

    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 corrupt. And for this I give Chang-Rae Lee kudos. Instead of an embarrassing family drama that uses an immigrant culture as fancy set dressing, he attacks the immigrant experience head on.The plot is fairly simple. Henry Park, second-generation Korean-American, works as a spy, and begins to spy on a powerful Korean-American mayoral candidate in New York. The author places the reader firmly in Park's mindset, as he looks upon the tableau of modern New York (this is the New York of Spike Lee, not Woody Allen) through a lens of deep and profound alienation. Which, in our present era of American fiction, is a breath of fresh air.

  • Daniel
    2018-09-14 18:22

    "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. The difficulties that they found earlier in their marriage magnify, and their relationship suffers a strain that threatens to break them apart. Chang-rae Lee's depiction of this marriage is thoughtful, mature, messy, and poetic. He made me care about Henry's marriage enough so that at times I was in suspense and compelled to read on.Overall, Lee shows skill in balancing the introspection and musing of the first-person narration with the plot strands that he weaves in between. That said, this is not a plot-driven novel so much as a "thought-driven" one--hence the reason why I preferred reading it in a few marathon sittings.

  • Emily Gordon
    2018-09-14 17:26

    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 overcome the burden of an oppressive father, or questioned the social order in America. As an added bonus, John Kwang just reeks of Barack Obama at times, and following that character brings to mind some interesting thoughts about Obama's similar rise to power.The struggle to be both Korean and American, to find and keep an elusive love, to find one's own true identity. No wonder I liked it so damned much.

  • Gorfo
    2018-09-02 19:16

    What a beautiful undulating mess of prose. ReadingNative Speakeryou will feel as if you are speaking several languages at once. Somehow Chang-rae Lee recreates Babel using english and a little korean to get him there. Nevertheless, while the ebb and flow of syntax was very interesting to follow, this lacked much in terms of diction. The tone almost never changed, even at the height of the drama. It remained the same: melancholy, muted, and monotonous. The tone of the narrator was so careful and calculating that it ultimately stifled the chance of any true emotion spilling forth, and as a result, I felt as if I was watching the actions of the book play out from light years away. This is really a shame, because if you can truly muster the strength to wade through the subtleties, the book is a perfect analysis of what it is to be a native speaker, and there's a healthy dose of drama and intrigue mixed in too.