Synopsis

Henry depicts the dual nature of Korean Americans

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NATIVE SPEAKER

A constant clash between two halves of Henry Park soundly describes the plot and the theme of the novel Native Speaker. In Native Speaker, the author Chang-Rae Lee introduces a Korean American Henry Park and his double sided life. Henry represents the lifelong identity clash that general Korean Americans face in their lives. As a child of parents who have emigrated from Korea, Henry was raised in an environment that insists control over emotions and appearances. Henry works as a spy for a private intelligence agency where he investigates certain people. Henry constantly struggles between American and Korean customs and expectations. Henry through his lifetime is uncertain of his true identity. He looks America from an outsider’s point of view. Henry and his American Wife Lelia are emotionally and physically separated from each other after the indifferent attitude that Henry showed toward their son’s death. At work, Henry illustrates problems as well by getting emotionally attached to the subjects he is supposed to coldly investigate. After he meets John Kwang, he discovers more of what it takes to be Korean American. Chang-Rae Lee vividly depicts what goes around and comes around inside Henry’s head. Lee’s insightful and thought-provoking approach of the life of Henry Park compels the reader to ponder what cultural duality actually means.

Review

Native Speaker brings emotional attachment


It is difficult to find books written by Asian American authors. Chang-Rae Lee’s first novel Native Speaker first grabbed my attention when I was in a book store in search for a “good book” to read. Because Native Speaker was written by a Korean author and I did not have chances to read literatures written by Korean authors, I was curious of how well this book was written.

Without hesitation or doubt I asserted that Native Speaker exceeded the qualities of a good book. With his brilliant choice of words, Lee’s command of English language is marvelous. Lee articulately and acutely represents cultural diversity of New York City and cultural difficulties that Henry faces. Within the anecdotes of cultural difficulties, Lee also explores the issues of family, loyalty, betrayal, and what success is brought forth by. While Lee uses Korean Americans, his themes may apply to all Americans and he speaks of American experience.
Henry moves throughout the story to find his true identity. And this search for identity is never accomplished. As Henry goes further, there come more questions with deeper profundity. As I have two cultures encircling me, a western and American culture at school and Korean culture outside of school, I felt emotionally attached to the novel when Henry was facing cultural problems. In fact, I was moved by the novel. The stories in the book reiterate. It seems to me that for people of dual culture, culture clash is something that they cannot avoid through entirety of their lives. But in the end, as Henry discovers, the right way to avoid culture clash is to be in harmony with both cultures; being able to understand and incorporate both cultures when appropriate.

I highly recommend this book to the people who want to learn more about Korean Americans. Native Speaker satisfyingly represents the Korean American culture group with colorful image of how cultural and generational conflicts shape Korean’s life.

Author Biography

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Chang-Rae Lee

Chang-Rae Lee is a Korean American novelist. Lee immigrated to the United States when he was 3 and graduated from Yale University with a degree in English. He wrote three books in his career as a full time novelist: Native Speaker, A Gesture Life, and Aloft. “Native Speaker”, in particular, received many awards including PEN/Hemingway Award, American Book Award, and QPB New Visions Award. He is currently writing his forth novel, "The Surrendered".