Narrator Henry Park, son of a Korean-American grocer, is an undercover operative for a vaguely sinister private intelligence agency. When he is assigned to spy on a rising Korean-American politician, Park finds his family, culture, and identity endangered by the secrets he uncovers. Swirled into the turbulent background of New York City politics and growing ethnic tensions, Park must come to terms with his American wife, Lelia, and the recent death of his young son while fighting an emotional attachment to the people he is investigating. A compelling intrigue builds while insights into current political events, love, culture, and family abound.
In dit debuut zijn alle thema's, die in zijn tweede roman zo harmonieus samenkomen al volop aanwezig: het zoeken naar een identiteit tussen twee culturen, de kracht van het verleden en de centrale rol van de taal als voertuig van een cultuur. De bespiegelingen die Lee daaraan wijdt, zijn op zich interessant genoeg, maar komen niet helemaal uit de verf omdat ze ingekaderd zijn in een spionageverhaal dat maar niet van de grond wil komen. Dat weerhield enkele toonaangevende literaire bladen er overigens niet van hem naar aanleiding van dit debuut uit te roepen tot een van de veelbelovendste jonge Amerikaanse schrijvers
A pervading sense of something having gone wrong opens this book. The search for its cause and more details is the powerful driving force behind this intriguing first novel. Its finest characteristic, however, is the way in which the author expresses what it feels like to be an ethnic Korean growing up in America---the alienation, the anguish, the longing to be a necessary part of the wider culture. It addresses the dichotomy of two divergent cultures that must be embraced by the child of an American immigrant who strives to improve his station in life, the tension that exists between Asians and non-Asians who find themselves living and working side by side, and the intergenerational clash that often occurs between the immigrant generation and its children. NATIVE SPEAKER is an absorbing story and a welcome addition to any growing collection of Asian-American literature.
I was required to read it for my Asian American Literature class. We had some every interesting class discussions, talking about the use of language and the fact that Hnery uses language almost as a barrier.
If you are interested in a (fake) autobiographical novel about a civilian spy, then you might like it. But it's not my kind of book.
This book is largely about discourse - the discourse between a man and wife; the discourse between parent and child; the common language and experiences shared by immigrants in a new country; and the lengths that immigrants go to in order to fit in. It's a very rich book with a lot of layers - again, would have been nice to discuss it with a class (suppose that was sort of the point). I really enjoyed reading it.
"I never felt comfortable with the phrase [I love you], had a deep trouble with it, all the ways it was said. You could say it in a celebratory sense. For corroboration. In gratitude. To get a point across, to instill guilt in your lover, to defend yourself. You said it after great deliberation, or when you felt reckless. You said it when you meant it and sometimes when you didn't. You somehow always said it when you had to." [p112-113]