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.
June Han was only a girl when the Korean War left her orphaned; Hector Brennan was a young GI who fled the petty tragedies of his small town to serve his country. When the war ended, their lives collided at a Korean orphanage where they vied for the attentions of Sylvie Tanner, the beautiful yet deeply damaged missionary wife whose elusive love seemed to transform everything. Thirty years later and on the other side of the world, June and Hector are reunited in a plot that will force them to come to terms with the mysterious secrets of their past, and the shocking acts of love and violence that bind them together.
As Lee unfurls the stunning story of June, Hector, and Sylvie, he weaves a profound meditation on the nature of heroism and sacrifice, the power of love, and the possibilities for mercy, salvation, and surrendering oneself to another. Combining the complex themes of identity and belonging of Native Speaker and A Gesture Life with the broad range, energy, and pure storytelling gifts of Aloft, Chang-rae Lee has delivered his most ambitious, exciting, and unforgettable work yet. It is a mesmerizing novel, elegantly suspenseful and deeply affecting.
With his most powerful prose yet, Lee shows us that war damages people far beyond any other kind of abuse life offers and that persons damaged by the losses, violence and displacement of war will go to great lengths to work out either retribution or salvation... If I could, I would make the book required reading for politicians, diplomats, world leaders and arms dealers, though many of them would possibly not get the message. (Reviewed by Judy Krueger).
The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
If the reader stops and thinks about it, there are lots of infelicities of craft in this novel... But Mr. Lee writes with such intimate knowledge of his characters’ inner lives and such an understanding of the echoing fallout of war that most readers won’t pause to consider such lapses — they will be swept up in the power of The Surrendered and its characters’ aching and indelible stories.
The Washington Post
We're willing enough to go along with this dubious plot point and several jarringly melodramatic episodes that punctuate an otherwise coherent narrative. What's harder to accept, from an author for whom character has always been paramount, is the lack of dimensionality in both Hector and Sylvie, who manage to seem vaporous and wooden at the same time... With one full-hearted portrait out of three, Lee has only partially but rather magnificently succeeded.
The New Yorker - James Wood
... commendably ambitious, extremely well written, powerfully moving in places, and, alas, utterly conventional... Lee is a gifted chronicler of war, but The Surrendered also squanders those gifts, in a misguided attempt to choreograph a satisfyingly "good read"...
The Chicago Sun-Times
The novel is not perfect. There are moments of redundancy and melodrama, and several improbable plot twists are jarringly over the top. These are small complaints in what is in the end a rewarding read filled with the aura of mystery. Lee’s wonderful use of words and images grabs you from the first page and never lets go. It is an epic story stalked by death, but also one filled with breathtaking jolts of life, love and hints of happiness.
Beautiful, riveting, piercingly haunting ... The settings and times are masterfully interwoven to form an elegant, disturbing inquiry into courage, love, loyalty, and mercy. .... This is a book to read in two or three long sittings, gulping pages, turning them as fast as possible to reach the perfect, inevitable ending.
The New York Times - Terrence Rafferty
This novel…gathers life greedily, hungrily, but with a certain stealth: Lee doesn't bolt it all down at once, as the refugee children in his story do. The Surrendered, his largest, most ambitious book, is about the horrors of war and the sorrows of survival, yet its manner is quiet, watchful, expectant, as if everyone, including Lee himself, were waiting to see what might accrue.
... beautifully brutal and sad... less about war than its aftermath and the kind of scars that never heal... It's a complex story, rich in details, if at times too rich for impatient readers. In the end, it's not just about war's easy brutalities but also the power and limits of love.
The San Francisco Chronicle
This is not a happy book, but it is a rewarding one. The Surrendered grabs your attention - sometimes terrifying you in the process - and doesn't let go until its final moment. For a book permeated by death, its pages are breathtakingly alive.
Starred Review. [A] harrowing tale: bleak, haunting, often heartbreaking—and not to be missed.
Starred Review. [Lee's] ability to describe his characters' sufferings, both physical and mental, is extraordinarily vivid; one is left in awe of the human soul's ability to survive the most horrific experiences.
Starred Review. A major achievement, likely to be remembered as one of this year's best books.
A Memory of Solferino, by Henry Dunant appears over and over throughout The Surrendered. Sylvie acquired the book from her parents and brought it with her to the orphanage in Korea. She is pictured reading it many times and June eventually steals it from Sylvie. It is the impetus for June's final pilgrimage. Though it is out of print, A Memory of Solferino can still be found through used booksellers and, at the time of writing, was available online here.
The Battle of Solferino was fought as part of the longer struggle for unification within the Italian peninsula during the nineteenth century. Before then, Italy as we now know it was divided between France, Austria, Spain and numerous small Italian principalities.
On June 24, 1859, the alliance of France and Sardinia under Napoleon III (nephew of Napoleon I) met the Austrian army at the small village of Solferino in northern Italy. Fighting continued for fifteen hours until the Austrians retreated, leaving more than 40,000 killed or injured. Surrounding villages were overwhelmed with...
Set in the haunting landscape of eastern Australia, this is a stunningly accomplished debut novel about the inescapable past: the ineffable ties of family, the wars fought by fathers and sons, and what goes unsaid.
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