Monday, March 21, 2016

The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee

I just finished the book last night.
It is interesting to read it just after Toni Morrison's Beloved.

Both about women.
Both about survival.
Both women defy the archetype of "woman" that permeates Western Art & Lit. Neither are good mothers or caretakers, but they are not sirens either. Aren't those the two predominate women in stories, good-giving-nurturing or evil-seductive-destructive?

No June, like Sethe, is a survivor.

June is a mother but not a caretaker. And as Hector asks her if she would care for him if their situations were reversed she states "I've never taken care of anybody."

Additionally June challenges Western stereotypes of Asian women. There is of course the Asian Fetish (which I've been told by an Asian Man exists regardless of gender.) And there is the submissive female: at home, cooking and cleaning and walking behind her man.

I feel funny trying to describe for anyone a book written by a Princeton Professor. But I'll say that it is very interesting to read. The descriptions of the Korean War and the orphanage coincide with what little I know about it, as well as what little I understand of Korean Culture, and add color and depth to my understanding. As the mother to Korean Adoptees this history of Americans adopting war orphans from Korea which leads to the current adoption culture between the two countries evokes a complicated response.

I am always frustrated by authors who flip through time, memories, now the present, a different person's memories, now the present. I like a linear story. That said, the characters are not ones I meet often. Nothing here feels done before or cliche and everything feels plotted out, indeed I wonder if I missed some of the story somewhere.

Should you read it? Well, I suppose so. It is a good book. It is well written, complicated and different.
Here is what Terrence Rafferty of the New York Times has to say about it:

1 comment:

troutbirder said...

Sounds interesting. We have two adopted (from Rwanda and Ethiopia)grandchildren.
I do like stories with historical backgrounds and linear ones work best for me too since I'm easily confused by "jumping around."....:)