Chang-Rae Lee has written a very ambitious fourth novel with The Surrendered. It travels back and forth through time from Korea to New Jersey to Manchuria and Italy. The story begins with June Han, a Korean orphan trying to survive a trek to safe ground. Young GI Hector Brennan finds her on the road and brings her to an orphanage where the meet Sylvie Tanner, a missionary wife. There the pair vie for her attention. At least that’s where it seems to begin at first, but Lee also brings us to the point where June is orphaned; why Hector joined the military trying to escape the death of his father; what brought Sylvie Tanner to Korea. And it will suddenly move forward to Hector and June’s lives after the war.
The death of parents scarred June, Hector, and Sylvie. The repercussions of their deaths cause ripples of grief through all of them. Lee has written a very powerful novel about not just how awful war can be, but how love can be damaging as well as uplifting. He offersÂ no easy endings or heartwarming coming-together,Â instead bringingÂ to life aÂ powerful, unpredictable,Â and occasionally painful story.
As The Surrendered is centered on a rather diverse cultural experience, you may enjoy (and may already have read) Junot Diaz’ The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao â€” a powerful perspective of the immigrant experience, in this case, for a Dominican immigrant. As a warning, it can be a bit disturbing at times, especially in the narrative about the dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. But Diaz has a very confident voice here and litters the story with Spanglish that makes it sound genuinely street-savvy. And the contemporary cultural allusions are great.
Another book telling a powerful immigrant story is: Double Crossing by Eve Tal. It’s sequal: Cursing Columbus is another compelling read.
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.