The surrendered

by Chang-rae Lee

Paper Book, 2010




New York : Riverhead Books, 2010.


Thirty years after vying for the attentions of a beautiful but damaged missionary wife at an orphanage, Korean orphan June Han and former GI Hector Brennan are reunited by a plot that forces them to come to terms with mysterious secrets from their past.

Media reviews

Mr. Lee chronicles these cruel, heartbreaking events of war with harrowing, cinematic immediacy, making palpable the excruciating violence and the huge footprint it leaves on people’s lives. He not only shows us the sights and sounds of a country being torn apart by civil war, but also does an
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equally powerful job of conveying the emotional consequences of war — the psychological damage sustained by people, who will spend the rest of their lives trying to forget or exorcise terrible memories.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Novasea
I had good feelings about this book as soon as I started it. Actually..I had good feelings about it before I started it. Don't ask me was just a feeling. I liked the thought of reading about three so very different characters who's lives would touch each other for almost 30 years...I was
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curious about a story which would span continents. I was not let feelings turned out to be a degree.

Surrendered...what was surrendered?

June. Orphaned at 11 and left to survive on her own in the middle of the Korean War. Left to endure,witness,survive and remember untold horrors which only war can bring.

Hector. An American boy who grew up too fast. A boy who assumed manhood,responsiblity,sexuality and guilt at too young an age. Hector who carries all of this with him to the battlefields of Korea.

Sylvie. The only daughter of a devout missionary couple who travels the globe, under ofttimes difficult circumstances, to remote and dangerous places. Sylvie who seems at once both innocent and unusually aware. Sylvie who has her innocence violently ripped away at the age of 14.

In The Surrendered, Chang-Rae Lee takes these three people,having given us glimpses of their troubled backgrounds, and puts them together in a postwar orphanage in Korea. Their interactions were complex and yet at the same time predictable. Thirty years later, Hector and June are again together. Lee gives us even more insight into what transpired at the orphanage. He gives us more insight into why each character acts and reacts as he or she does.

At the end of The Surrendered I sat and pondered about whether or not my initial feelings about the book were in fact correct. Was this a good read? I had swayed throughout the reading of the book from being enthralled to being bored. I was often tempted to set it aside..and yet would pick it up again. It came to me that the story,for me, was not just one of three people who met under adverse conditions during a war and impacted each other's was a story of three individuals who's lives were impacted by circumstances. Not just by immediate circumstances but by the circumstances of the past as well as circumstances of the future. And how violent,excessive, horrific events in our early lives can be so forceful that we carry the effects of these events with us forever. Even if we do not realize that we are carrying them...even if we appear to have survived...did we really? What if who we really meant to be was lost...what if was order to survive?

June, Hector and Sylvie are the surrendered.
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LibraryThing member kidzdoc
This powerful novel of the horrors of war and the sorrows of love takes place in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation, war torn Korea, and NYC and Italy in the mid 1980s. June (Han) Singer is nearing the end of her unsuccessful battle with stomach cancer. She has survived the horrors of the
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Korean War, including the loss of her entire family and those whom she loved the most, and her unyielding determination, combined with a necessary streak of meanness, allowed her to become a successful antiques dealer in New York City. She refuses to die until she finds her only son, who is traveling throughout Europe but has not contacted her in several months. She learns that he is in trouble, and seeks the help of Hector Brennan, a handsome womanizer and alcoholic who rescued the teenaged June while he was stationed in Korea. Their lives remained connected during the years that Hector worked at the orphanage that housed June, which was run by the Reverend Tanner and his wife Sylvie. The impossible and tragic love that the flawed Sylvie, the handsome Hector and the fiery June share consumes all of them, and continues to affect their lives years later when June and Hector meet, for the last time.

I found The Surrendered to be a captivating novel, although one key incident in the story was a bit incredulous, and Hector's character and actions were difficult for me to understand and appreciate. This is a very good novel about isolation, identity and memory in the midst of war and unfulfilled love, and is definitely a recommended read.
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LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
If you need Zoloft to get through the day and don't want to increase your dosage, run, don't walk, away from this book. It is about as far from a light, fun read as a book can be; the “serious literature” category is more apt.

The story grabbed me at chapter one. That chapter is about a little
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girl, June, who is trying to escape the horrors of the Korean war in 1950 and save her siblings as well as herself. Chapter two is the same person, sharp-edged and not very likeable, in 1986 New York, preparing for a journey to find her son. Intermingled are the stories of June, an American soldier (Hector), missionaries turned social workers, orphanages, lovers, loss, and betrayal.

While there are very dramatic events that take place, this is not an action story. It is a story about damaged souls going on to damage other souls. As is said of Hector, “Someone could easily argue that all of him had spoiled, even as his physique remained remarkably sound, that a special scan of his abstract being would show an unsettling result, revealing a soul neither bountiful nor spare but used up, right down to nothing.” A minor character who especially touched me was Dora, a hard-shelled, vulnerable barfly who might finally find some happiness.

The book bogged down a bit for me in the middle part, just a little too much description of that period in the story, but in the end, I was very glad I read it. The story is very dark but thoughtful and beautifully written.
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LibraryThing member Sivani
A Fugue in a Minor key.

The Surrendered illuminates the fact that each of the characters are refugees, in flight from something, or someone; the underlying truth emerges that frequently they are trying to escape from themselves. And no matter how far or how fast one runs, one takes oneself along.

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book of loss, delicately drawn, and yet utterly robust in its characters, Chang-Rae Lee continues to deliver works with astonishing impact.
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LibraryThing member Soniamarie
A DNF for me, but I made it page 280 so I will share my thoughts.. The beginning had me hooked. An eleven year old June is struggling to save her young brother and sister in war torn Korea.. There is train hopping, food scavenging, and torn off limbs.. WOW. Then June is living in New York and
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looking for her art thief son. Fascinating.

Then is switched to Hector. Hector is all about drinking, fighing, and fornicating. He is a former G.I. that worked at an orphanage that June resided at. The book goes from 1980s New York to 1950s Korea with Hector lusting after the minister's wife at the orphanage I mentioned. The wife is Sylvie and she has a drug problem and a few war secrets of her own.

I never grew to like Hector or Sylvie and I just wanted it to go back to June but when it did finally go back to June, I didn't like her either anymore. I didn't like how she turned out. You got three people that have all been to hell and back in some way and not one of them becomes a better person from their experiences?

Didn't work for me but a lot of people are loving it, so give it a go.
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LibraryThing member tloeffler
It’s 1950, and June is an orphan, trying to escape with her younger siblings from the devastations of the Korean War. She is found by Hector Brennan, a former soldier, who takes her to the orphanage where he works. From here, the story fast-forwards to 1986, where June, now a wealthy antiques
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dealer, is dying from cancer. She sells everything she owns, and hires a private investigator to find her son Nicholas, who left home years ago, and also to find Hector. Her plan is to go to her son and see him once again before she dies, and she decides that she wants Hector to go with her.

The Surrendered travels back and forth from the days at the orphanage to the search for Nicholas. The Reverend Ames Tanner and his wife Sylvie come to oversee the orphanage, and the relationships between June, Hector and Sylvie set up the basis of both stories: the current story and the past story. Eventually we learn the past history of all three, and we watch the avalanche gain momentum as it crashes to the ground.

This is a very intense book, and although I found it well-written, it wasn’t compelling until almost the very end. I didn’t really like any of the characters, and the disposition of every woman Hector loved became extremely tiresome. I had to talk myself into reading it each night, until the last 100 pages, which I read in one fell swoop. I can’t say that I hated, or even disliked the book, but it’s hard to say that I liked it either.
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LibraryThing member GrazianoRonca
The Surrendered
by Chang-rae Lee

Riverhead Books (A member of Penguin Group, USA), New York, 2010
I received this free book as ARC from Penguin Group

Just a first sentence: when you start reading this book never stop listening to the tales of Chang-rae Lee.

This book is the story of June, Hector and
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Sylvie and also an excursus in Usa, Korea and China's History of the 20th century (30s, 50s, and 80s). The background is the Korean War in which a child, June (the war started in June 1950), lost her parents; an orphanage runs by two missionaries, Reverend Tanner and his wife Sylvie; and an ex-US army soldier, Hector.

The narrative style: Lee postpones the stream of the events, while telling the stories of these people he goes back and forth; but eventually you are impatient to know what happens next and keep reading.

The theme of responsibility and feeling of guilt runs through most of this book:
- Hector's guilt, a character escaped from some book of Dostoevsky, was to leave alone his drunk father at the pub, so the same night he fell down in the canal and died drowned. In my opinion this event will change forever the rest of Hector's life. Hector eventually meets someone to be happy: Dora, a woman no wanted by anyone (as Liza or Sonya in Dostoevsky); but something will stop this happiness. "He (Hector) felt he might like to be adopted away, too. (...) in a circumstance in which he would have no responsibilities except for some strenuous job or chores." p. 151
- June, ("a dusty little moon" p. 111), despite her willing of life, only once found her sickness undertsands why she has lost her son: "you could never love someone out of his nature, love someone out of his fate." p. 244 And when June was a child running away from the war, decided to climb atop a crowed train where, after an accident, her sibling dies. These 'wrong' decisions will be mate of June's life.
- Sylvie's feeling of guilt came from her willing of mercy and her beloved book Battle of Solferino by Dunant which inspired the creation of the Red Cross; but mercy and compassion have limits, as Reverend Tanner teaches to his wife Sylvie.

Lee seems to tells us that the Fate has lost somewhere these people; or the questions 'Could you change your destiny?', or "Could one ever reroot her own ... self?" p. 395, they have no answer.
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LibraryThing member DARKANG3L
The Surrendered was a book of odds for me. The opening chapter pulls you in with the story of a girl trying to survive the horrors of war while taking care of her two younger siblings only to lose them.

The book then goes forth from switching points of view between the characters June, Hector, and
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Sylvie. It goes back and forth from the past to the present between them, giving people an idea what it was like from different character aspects.

This book is meant for a mature audience and those who are intrigued with books about war, hardship, and overcoming life's depressing matters.
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LibraryThing member gerconk
This was a dark but engrossing story about the horrors of war and how the wounds and scars of war affect a person forever. June was a child when the Korean War began and lost everything. Hector is an American who fought in the war. Chang-rae Lee weaves the story from present to past to present in a
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clear and understandable way. The characterizations are excellent, and each character in the book stays true to him/herself. The story draws you in to the last page. I would have liked a different outcome to the story of June's son, but life is sad, as this story points out. And yet all parts of the story is completed, there are no loose ends, and it brings the reader to a satisfying end.
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LibraryThing member nomadreader
The Surrendered is a difficult book to read. The writing itself is absolutely beautiful, so if you're a fan of fantastic prose, pick it up. Be warned, however, it's not a feel good book. I found it to be appointment reading for me. It was not a book I took on the bus, read over dinner or picked up
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when I had a spare moment. It's a book I would schedule to read a few hours at a time. It's tragic and lovely. As someone who enjoys tragic in the sense that if it's real or believable, it's important to know about, I enjoyed it. I think it's an important novel.
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LibraryThing member meags222
I got this book as an ARC from Penguin books. I have to say that I really enjoyed reading this book. It is told from the point of view of 3 people: June, Hector and Sylvie. The book goes back and forth from present time to the past. June is a young girl who lived through the Korean war and ends up
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at an orphanage and eventually grows up to have a boy and lives in America. In the present part of the book June is actually very sick with cancer. Hector is an American soldier during the war and eventually ends up at the orphanage too as a maintenance person. Eventually he goes back to the US and ends up an alcoholic. Sylvie is the wife of a missionary who grows fond of both June and Hector while they are working/running the orphanage.
I could not put this book down. I was captivated by June's story. I have to admit that I found I had little patience for Hector and Sylvie but this could be because I have little patience for alcohol/drug addiction. The title of the book is so fitting as each character surrenders to something whether it be addiction, love, lust, death or even the truth. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.
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LibraryThing member ldelprete
This is a story that delves deep into the psyche of three main characters. It is not a story for someone who is looking for a happy ending or even any feel good moments really. It revolves around the lives of three people who are gravely affected by war. They all suffer in different ways but feel
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almost the same about themselves. None of the three feel they deserve happiness, althought they all continue to search for it. They all reach for love from people who are either unhealthy for them or unattainable. Each one never really allows themselves the chance to be happy or to be loves even though each desperately needs and wants it. They are all self-deprecating and self-loathing, and amazingly cold and hard. In some cases one of the three main characters view the other as "strong", which I guess by definition is true, but it really is just a hardening on one self in order to survive the devestation witnessed, experienced, and caused by the three during the wartime.
I fully enjoyed the writing style of the author. The first chapter was emotionally gripping and right off the start i felt for the characters. My heart broke for them. The way the chapters flashed back and forth from their childhoods to the present time to the time during the war was a great way to keep the reader turning the pages. This could have turned into a very drawn out story but the author did a great job leaving little cliff hangers at the end of chapters so you would wonder what happened. It was just enough to keep me reading through. I also liked how the author would reveal the answers to the cliffhangers from a different character's perspective. It was unique and kept things interesting and not flat in any way.
I was amazed each time the circumstances got worse for the three characters. I kept hoping it would get better for them. In some cases I knew what the outcome would be of one of the scenes from the past, but I found myself still hoping it would change.
I did feel that it was a little long towards the end of the story and could have been about 50 pages less, but overall it was a very eye-opening, profound read and I am a better person having read it.
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LibraryThing member landa102
I love this authors beautiful and evocative writing. He creates characters you come to care for and a novel that is hauntingly beautiful.
LibraryThing member billiondollarpr
This was a very well written book. I think this will become a classic. It is not an easy book to read. It is about tradgedy and hardship and how 3 lives are entertwined. This book is for people who enjoy a serious read.
LibraryThing member miaherrera
The Surrendered presents two people whose lives are unavoidably entangled after the Korean War. June Han, orphaned during the war, and Hector Brennan, an army man, come together after years of separation in a quest for some sense of closure or relief after the War’s attendant tragedy. Intertwined
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with the story of their present are the stories of their past and their haunting encounter with a woman named Sylvie Tanner, the minister’s wife from the Korean orphanage where they met.

The Surrendered is an intense read: it is mentally, emotionally, and sometimes even physically challenging. Lee does not shy away from the details that others cringe from. He tells stories of war and post-war life in a stark and carnal way that forces readers to see and feel what the characters see and feel.

Lee’s book is definitely for a more mature audience. Its words are sharp, biting, and to the point. He tells stories of love and war in equally tender detail. Though The Surrendered can sometimes be harsh, slow, and challenging, it opens a window into a period of time that most do not know enough about.
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LibraryThing member serosity
The surrendered pulled me in with the flowing prose of Chang Rae Lee. With the story running in the present with the past being explained as it goes, my feelings towards June as the main character came into view changed throughout the story. A viewpoint on the Korean war that I have not read from
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before, and enjoyed thoroughly.
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LibraryThing member deslivres5
This wonderful writer had me living in various places and times - NYC/NJ/Italy in the 80s, Korea during and after the Korean War, Manchuria during WWII. I loved the writing, even though I could have done without the graphic violence expected during war years. I loved the character of Hector; I wish
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I knew a bit more of June's early years after Korea which formed her later character.
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LibraryThing member Litfan
"The Surrendered" is an exploration of war, survival and the human spirit. It starts out with June, a child orphaned by the Korean war, struggling to get her two remaining siblings to safety in the midst of the war. It's a vast novel that intertwines June's story with that of a missionary and his
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troubled wife Sylvie, and an American GI, Hector, who tries in his own way to save June.

The historical aspect alone is quite interesting, and the author has done his research. This is a vast novel, coming in at over 500 pages, but it's worth the commitment. Each of the characters' lives echo the impact of war in different and fascinating ways, and their interplay with each other is at times tragic and at others healing. The author pulls no punches, and many scenes are fairly graphic but there is a purpose for this--he wants the reader to see the harsh reality of war and the way in which it irrevocably changes its survivors. As a therapist I appreciated how accurately the author captured what PTSD can look like. Hector's character with his survivor guilt was particularly touching. This is a novel that's frequently depressing but also uplifting in places, and well worth the read.
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LibraryThing member kvanuska
The war that rages within each of us as we strive to sublimate feelings of shame and unworthiness drives this novel. Periodically awkward jumps through decades and settings drive the primary storyline of June and Hector, battered survivors of the Korean War. The novel begins with two threads set in
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the metropolitan NY area. June, a Korean immigrant in her late 40's a Korean immigrant, is dying of cancer and is on a quest to find her troubled, missing son in Europe and unite him with Hector, the father he never knew. Hector is punishing himself daily for crime of surviving not only the war, but a devastating affair with Sylvia, an American missionary who ran an orphanage for displaced children in Korea. Sylvia, tortured by her own memories as a child survivor of Japanese torture in Manchuria, is the sun around whom both June and Hector's stories orbit. And so this novel includes a thick layer of flashback that belongs to Sylvia, a woman long-dead in terms of the novel's timeline, but still too much alive for June and Hector to bear. Lee has true talent for infusing his characters with loneliness, while also allowing tendrils of their loneliness to intertwine in ways that feel simultaneously savage and achingly beautiful. Though love hope and love occasionally flare to bonfire strength within this novel, Lee is thankfully not a romantic who packages these emotions as off-the-shelf cures for our private wars. Instead, love and hope are pain relievers for those who surrender themselves to the act of living.
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LibraryThing member neddludd
A highly overwritten book that can pierce your heart with its surprising interludes of violence and cruelty, as well as loyalty and love. There are words you won't know, and the author seems to be writing to impress, employing an eliptical style, which, by the end becomes quite annoying. The
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narrative is minimal; most of the action is in flashbacks and there are only a few characters. The Korean War and an orphanage near Seoul play major roles. But other than the random violence and sadistic/masochistic impulses that can suddenly overwhelm you, the point of the novel is murky. There is one pleasant interlude, but it ends quickly with two people dead. The main characters are two superhumans, both short on empathy, one a handsome brawler, the other a woman who almost seems capable of overcoming any challenge. Sporadically riveting, the book is ultimately quite disappointing.
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LibraryThing member libsue
Hector Brennan, June Han and Sylvie Tanner are ruined human beings all trying to live life one footstep at a time. The three come together just after the Korean war in an orphanage in Korea. Can love take hold withing hearts destroyed by suffering and loss?
LibraryThing member Feign
Had I stopped to rate this novel at the halfway point I'd have said it went off the chart, beyond a mere five stars. Such rich prose, heart-rending actions, characters I wanted to reach out to embrace, each one damaged by war and circumstance. Then, all of a sudden, the author slammed on the brakes
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and, just like one of his characters' driving habits, dawdled along for the next 200 pages, throwing in backstory after backstory for every character we encounter, including in one case the backstory of the character's parents, who never even figured in the narrative, all bridged inbetween by endless Sargasso Seas of third-person interior monologues consumed with misery. Every major and minor figure in the book is a complete emotional cripple, dragging him/herself and everyone around them (and the reader) into dank depths of depression. Those few characters who manage to begin to pull themselves free of their ruined and awful existences, just as they reach the cusp of a possible better life, suddenly meet a cruel and horrific death. Every single one!

I don't mind depressing literature, especially when it's delivered in such soaring and original language as this novel. But the interminable wallowing in self-inflicted horror inevitably squandered my sympathy and lost my interest.
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LibraryThing member brittltt
The Surrendered is a book that is full of life, love and death. Every character has experienced some sort of loss through war. In the story, the main characters June, Sylvie and Hector are all left completely on their own and find themselves blindly reaching out for, if not love, then some sort of
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redemption and acceptance. The tragedy of the book is that no one completely finds it. The only way they are saved is through their own death. The surrendered was beautifully written with heartwrenching imagery. Lee was remorseless in writing this novel, keeping nothing at bay and showing the reader the stark reality of life. Lee put this story in the center and aftermath of the Korean War. War brings out the worst in humanity as a whole and creates a stunning backdrop for the emotions of the heart, but I truly believe that this story could have been told just as effectively without the aid of war and destruction. What I found beautiful and compelling about the Surrendered is that Lee accurately depicted what lies deep within our hearts in various forms (fear, guilt of some kind, love, passion, obsession).
Hector was by far the most interesting character in that Lee created an immortal being. For some unknown crime that he had committed in the past it seems that the author was forcing him to live forever acting as a witness to the demise of all the other main characters. Lee first alluded to Hector’s myth-like status in his name…not giving him the name of a divine god but the name of a hero who was immortal only in the shape of his name. Hector was rightly named in that his predecessor seemed to be cursed with death and war, except Hector’s predecessor is given the gift of death, while Hector remains. Throughout the book, Lee tells of Hector’s reckless and often times dangerous habits…habits that in real life no one would be able to survive, but Hector does in a very magical way. What is even more heartbreaking is the tragedy that surrounds Hector…death follows every being that Hector comes to care for. I think it would have been very interesting if Lee had made allusions to death himself when describing Hector. Lee is such an imaginative and creative writer that he would have come up with something both eerie and beautiful.
The only character who actually struggles for life is June. Orphaned by the Korean War, June never stops fighting for more time, even if she is the only one left to experience it. Even though she is cold and sometimes cruel, I couldn’t keep from sympathizing and aching for what she had experienced at such a young age.
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LibraryThing member lindawwilson
An incoherent book that jumps from character to character in flashbacks weaving an unconvincing tale that throws all sorts of tragedies together-war, fire, strange relationships and that do not ring true, cancer, drugs, alcohol, sex etc. The characters are all seriously depraved. I do not recommend
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the book.
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LibraryThing member gordsellar
Lee has not only a great talent, but well-honed skill with words... but I'm afraid I had a lot of trouble convincing myself to pick the book up again and read more. Maybe it's just me, but I had a lot of trouble suspending my disbelief and going along with some of the things Lee wrote: one
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character in particular is very difficult to believe in, and the unrelenting bleakness was, well... it was a downer. Sad books can be great, but I struggled with why I was supposed to enjoy reading about these particular darknesses. It may just be personal.
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