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The Surrendered

  • Writer
    Chang-Rae Lee
  • Publisher
  • Published Year
    2010
  • Genre
    Literature - English and American literatures - Fiction

Description

Read an essay by Chang-rae Lee here.
 The bestselling, award-winning writer of Native Speaker, A Gesture Life, and Aloft returns with his biggest, most ambitious novel yet: a spellbinding story of how love and war echo through an entire lifetime. 

 

 With his three critically acclaimed novels, Chang-rae Lee has established himself as one of the most talented writers of contemporary literary fiction. Now, with The Surrendered, Lee has created a book that amplifies everything we've seen in his previous works, and reads like nothing else. It is a brilliant, haunting, heartbreaking story about how love and war inalterably change the lives of those they touch.
 June Han was only a girl when the Korean War left her orphaned; Hector Brennan was a young GI who fled the petty tragedies of his small town to serve his country. When the war ended, their lives collided at a Korean orphanage where they vied for the attentions of Sylvie Tanner, the beautiful yet deeply damaged missionary wife whose elusive love seemed to transform everything. Thirty years later and on the other side of the world, June and Hector are reunited in a plot that will force them to come to terms with the mysterious secrets of their past, and the shocking acts of love and violence that bind them together.
 As Lee unfurls the stunning story of June, Hector, and Sylvie, he weaves a profound meditation on the nature of heroism and sacrifice, the power of love, and the possibilities for mercy, salvation, and surrendering oneself to another. Combining the complex themes of identity and belonging of Native Speaker and A Gesture Life with the broad range, energy, and pure storytelling gifts of Aloft, Chang-rae Lee has delivered his most ambitious, exciting, and unforgettable work yet. It is a mesmeriz­ing novel, elegantly suspenseful and deeply affecting.

 

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from October 26, 2009
    Lee's masterful fourth novel (after Aloft
    ) bursts with drama and human anguish as it documents the ravages and indelible effects of war. June Han is a starving 11-year-old refugee fleeing military combat during the Korean War when she is separated from her seven-year-old twin siblings. Eventually brought to an orphanage near Seoul by American soldier Hector Brennan, who is still reeling from his father's death, June slowly recovers from her nightmarish experiences thanks to the loving attention of Sylvie Tanner, the wife of the orphanage's minister. But Sylvie is irretrievably scarred as well, having witnessed her parents' murder by Japanese soldiers in 1934 Manchuria. These traumas reverberate throughout the characters' lives, determining the destructive relationship that arises between June, Hector and Sylvie as the plot rushes forward and back in time, encompassing graphic scenes of suffering, carnage and emotional wreckage. Powerful, deeply felt, compulsively readable and imbued with moral gravity, the novel does not peter out into easy redemption. It's a harrowing tale: bleak, haunting, often heartbreaking—and not to be missed.

 

  • Kirkus

    February 15, 2010
    The odyssey of a Korean War refugee becomes first the subject of, then a haunting overture to, the award-winning Korean-American author's fourth novel (Aloft, 2004, etc.).

    Lee's introspective and interrogatory novels seek the sources of their characters' strengths and weaknesses in their own, and their families' stories—nowhere more powerfully than in this exhaustive chronicle of three hopeful lives tempered in the crucibles of wars and their enduring aftermaths. In a patiently developed and intermittently slowly paced narrative that covers a 30-year span and whose events occur in four countries and on three continents, the entangled histories of three protagonists are revealed. We first encounter 11-year-old June Han, traveling with her twin siblings following the deaths of their parents toward safety with their uncle's family. June's willed stoicism and suppression of fear serve her well in extremity, but they will have a far different effect on her later life—shaped when she is rescued by American G.I. Hector Brennan (himself in flight from the memory of a painful loss). Hector brings June to Sylvie Tanner, a minister's wife who runs an orphanage (and whose own demons owe much to the savagery of history in another place and another time). Each character's past, motivations and future prospects are rigorously and compassionately examined, as the author follows them after the war. In its ineffably quiet way, there really is something Tolstoyan in this searching fiction's determination to understand the characters specifically as members of families and products of other people's influences. The characterizations of Hector and Sylvie are astonishingly rich and complex, and the risk taken in depicting the adult June as the woman readers will hope she would not become is triumphantly vindicated.

    A major achievement, likely to be remembered as one of this year's best books.

    (COPYRIGHT (2010) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

 

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from November 15, 2009
    June Singer is a middle-aged Korean woman living in the United States and dying of cancer, but before she dies, she wants to accomplish two things: find her son, who is drifting around Italy, and make a redemptive pilgrimage to the Chapel of Bones. She enlists the unwilling help of Hector, her son's father, whom she hasn't seen since the 1950s, when she was a child in a Korean orphanage and Hector was an ex-soldier working as the handyman. Throughout June and Hector's painful journey, we learn about the Tanners, the couple who ran the orphanage; Sylvie Tanner's childhood as a daughter of missionaries who were slain in front of her; the possessive love that June and Hector had for Sylvie; and the resulting calamity that has haunted them their whole lives. VERDICT This is a completely engrossing story of great complexity and tragedy. Lee's ("Aloft") ability to describe his characters' sufferings, both physical and mental, is extraordinarily vivid; one is left in awe of the human soul's ability to survive the most horrific experiences.Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA

    Copyright 2009 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.