Chang-rae Lee. Native Speaker.

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.

Read: November 2011

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