Native Speaker MAG

By Matt G., Swarthmore, PA

     “The day my wife left,” Henry Park begins, “she gave me a list of who I was.” Korean-American Henry Park, the protagonist of Native Speaker, is generally perceived as a successful, motivated, shrewd, charming young man. But to those who know him better, he’s a train wreck, derailed by a crippling lack of sense of self.

Raised by a first-generation immigrant struggling to survive in the tough American business climate, Park is pulled between two cultures. Even his profession, a spy seeking crucial information about organizations, is telling; without his own identity, he is only comfortable adopting aliases.

When Mitt, his son, tragically dies, Park has a breakdown. Withdrawing into the recesses of privacy, he emotionally starves his wife. When she leaves on an “extended vacation,” he’s left with nothing. Native Speaker examines the slow rebuilding of Park’s life. With promises of change, he fights to keep his love and career.

Chang-Rae Lee’s purposeful prose weaves a tale in which one central theme shines through: to be an immigrant is to struggle to define one’s identity. Park has grown up in a self-conscious world. Frantic speech therapists pounded away at his Korean accent; singled out by his facial features, he looks to erase any sign of difference. In doing so, however, Park erodes his true self until nothing remains but a bitter chasm. It takes both tragedy and love to reassemble the pieces of his lost heritage.

Native Speaker is filled with absorbing character conflicts and plot twists. It offers a unique look into the inner workings of an interracial relationship, a spy organization, a political party, and the life of an immigrant, with truths that apply to every reader.

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i love this !


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