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I'm very excited to welcome Shangri lead to Harvard bookstore to read from his new novel The surrendered . Mr Lee is the author of three previous novels including native speaker which earned him a PEN Hemingway Award. He teaches creative writing at Princeton and in 1909 the New Yorker named him one of the 20 best American writers under the age of 40. Mr. Lee's new novel The Surrendered begins in the atrocities of the Korean War and examines how both personal choices and broader historical forces affect the lives of two people. Hector Brennan a man from upstate New York who joined the Army as a sort of penance and joon Han a war orphan who eventually establishes herself as a successful Manhattan antiques dealer. When June develops cancer and travels to Italy to reconcile with her son we learn the truth about the dark past that binds June and Hector the New York Times said of the novel with the surrendered Mr. Lee has written the most ambitious and compelling novel of his already impressive career and Publisher's Weekly praised the novel car following. Sorry calling it harrowing a harrowing tale bleak haunting often heartbreaking and not to be missed. Please
join me in welcoming him. Thanks a lot for coming out tonight. I really appreciate it I have this camera because my daughters are now old enough to want to come along on book tour and because they can you know they have school and lives. I promised that I would take pictures of the audience just so. You know that they were younger before and they didn't care or really know about it so I just smiled . It was yeah. And maybe someone could think oh I'm going to I'm just going to read about six or six pages of. Of the book and then and then do what. And I hope we can have a conversation and you know discussion about
whatever you like to discuss and entertain your questions that's much more fun for me rather than just reading. But I'll I'm happy to read a little bit just to give you a sense of how I think the prose sounds to me it's that's important to not just what it says and so I'll just go ahead and do that and then we'll do what we do. This is actually a little section about one of the characters that Michael mentioned Hector Hector Brennan and he's a he's a lost soul of sorts . And this is just a little introduction about his his family background and early on in the book. I now use classes too and you know it's nice to have been noted as you know under 40 author but they don't have an under 50 author thing
anymore. I know this and now I need these. War is a stern teacher. His father would sometimes say to him quoting through cities the light bone man slung over Hector's shoulder in their typical end of Friday night lurch Hector always helped him limp home from the working man's pub in the town of Ilian New York. The normally sweet Jackie Brennan having drunk too much and turned a late night bitter sour Hector 15 years old in 1945 was still as sober as a ghost despite having drunk a half dozen grown men into stammering idiots sleepers on the barroom sawdust. What did I say. Hector we would repeat it flatly and dryly. Good. Never go to war son. Please never do. By the end of those evenings with his father loaded up on the Rye he had won on bets taken against Hector in drinking bouts. He would have to go at him all the way home.
His father's breath earthy and spiced with the truths he smoked all night and the pickled pearl onions he popped like almonds both of which he swore counteracted the liquor his father might sing a protest ballad like the dying rebel. But on a particular one particularly long nights he grew sweaty in pain faced and had to stop a couple times to retch into the gutter where the thickets of some Remington Arms companies managers manicured boxwood hedge and then in Mumbles borate Hector for his righteous silence or for the boyish piety of his soberness. By the time their footfalls played on the sagging plank steps of the Brennan family porch the boy bearing most of his father's weight he would sometimes say as heck to say his son's name aloud over and over in a kind of monkish ecstasy. Hector my Hector. And then if consciousness still grazed him after Hector Hector let him fall upon the parlor room sofa. He would look up and ask if he wished to hear again why he had named him so to call him thus instead of say
achilles a more glorious appellation. OK tell me because a man wants a son for a son and has no use for a champion. After reading the epic in school Hector pointed out to him that his namesake was killed his city doomed to ruin. His father eventually slaughtered as well. No matter boy his father told him. They tell us stories not to live by but to change make our own. Look at you. You'll live forever. Anyone with eyes can see that. Just never go to war. Jackie Brennan of course could never go to war. Unlike Hector he was a wisp of a man and had a right foot turn permanently sideways at birth. His right hand naturally angled as well while smallish and stunted Besides like that of a tiny elderly woman. But he was clever the most. And had he been born to a family of greater means and aspiration he might have been a state's attorney or college professor as he was well-spoken and quick and firm notions for better or worse of what people should hear.
When World War 2 broke out and legions of aliens son signed up his was one of the few mutterings of skepticism if not dissent there at first Jackie mostly kept his feelings about the war to himself or else lectured to his wary ared wife and his daughters and to Hector who in fact didn't mind listening to him make roundabout arguments in his bright resonant baritone. He loved him but unlike most other boys whose love for their fathers was predicated on fear and misplaced idolatry his was as for a favorite uncle. If deeper a love that recognize the man's foibles and numerous failings and saw them as distinctive rather than sorry and pathetic. But there was a limit to that view and it came at the pub after Jackie Brennan got his belly wash your beer and whiskey. He grew overly voluble his voice taking on a higher more insistent pitch. The war was ever weighing on his spirits in the pub. He might warmly address a group of young men in uniform after not paying them any attention all night. Permit me to buy you fellows another round of drafts that I might
hold up my head. And no I did my part. The servicemen would raucously accept and make room for him while the regulars miserably odd one another and Hector wise to what would happen next. Hector would sit on the periphery until his father cajoled him to come in the circle. When the mugs of beer went round with Jackie serially playing prosperous gentleman the blissful older brother and finally the knowing comrade in arms. But he had other agendas. Its thirst making work defending our land the noblest calling. You got that mister. I'm sorry you got that mister. It was at this point that Hector would tug on his father's sleeve though to no avail. But what I wish my good lads is that we do just that instead of getting involved in every minor dispute on the far side of the planet . You calling Pearl Harbor a minor dispute one of the servicemen replied. Last I checked it was a dirty ambush ambush by those ratchet ups where a couple thousand of
our guys got it. Rat Japs indeed. Jackie Brennan would cry but what conditions were in fact at play behind that horrid carnage. His father would intone pedantically at this point. His father was already in the bag but an audience of newcomers always inspired in recasting his view of himself as a hard working factory man into that of a thinker someone whose main purpose was to bear light and truth to others like the revered teacher. He pictured himself becoming when he was young before he entered the factory. Like everybody else precious few of us bother to look at the bigger picture. Did the Japanese intend to conquer us. Do they still. I very much doubt it. Look at our capacity for good for producing arms right here in our small town and then multiply that by thousands. They know they can't compete with us over the long run so they attempt a single stunning blow to dissuade us from meddling further in their affairs. The scorpion and the lion Pearl Harbor was about protecting their interest in their part of the world in their sphere of influence.
And if we sent them the appropriate signals beforehand all those soldiers and not scores of thousands of others would still be alive today. I've had enough of this one of the men said slamming down the beard Jackie had paid for on the scarred wooden table . You're either one of those pacifists or appeasers and I can't stand to listen to you another second. Do what you will Jackie answered him with an almost operatic tone of defiance. But in fact I'm neither those young men. I'm an American son with no need for larger aims which you will someday come to understand. Out of the way mister you can do me the respect of at least finishing your beer. Go to hell. Don't you curse at me. It was then as a rule that pandemonium broke loose at least in his father's mind. A fierce heroic scuffle that usually found Jackie Brennan tightly hugging a soldier around his torso so the fellow couldn't freely swing and punch. Hector jumped in and he would be besieging the man to ignore his father's foul curses. The proprietor and a few
regulars holding the other servicemen back until Hector could tell Jackie outside and hustle in quickly down the street and toward home. Nothing too serious ever happened there after one night when the barkeep took a straight punch in the face. Jackie was ordered to stay away for a while which he did without even a private protest at home. Jackie knew he was well liked enough to be tolerated for such troubles but not much more than that . And if he couldn't help but be a knew a nuisance when he drank he took great pains to make up for it. Buying drinks for all the fellows on his return and not forgetting a box of candies for the barkeep to give to his wife. One night Hector left home by himself telling his father he was tired. It was a slow night at the pub foggy and damp with no newcomers about for Jackie to sermonize her bet with her drinks. I never heard you say you were tired. His father said to him. Suspicion marking his voice not once in your life. Well I am Hector answered. Lying to his father for the first and only
time. I just want to go home. Go on then. Jackie said waving Hector off from his customary place at the far end of the bar clutching the handle of a mug of ale with his withered child sized hand. And tell your mother not to wait up. Hector grumbled an assent. Both he and his father knowing of course that his mother would be long asleep being accustomed to her husband's Friday night foolery. Jackie only got sloshed this one night of the week but never missed it. And his mother was glad that Hector went out with him as planned though Hector routed himself toward home home by Patricia Cahill's freshly painted bungalow and picket fence done by his own hand and seeing the parlor room light illuminated. Went directly to the back porch door which he said she would leave unlocked if the twins were asleep. It was the spring of 1945 and a long war was still going and her husband was listed as am I. She was a stunning raven haired black Irish woman with some sky colored eyes and freckles on her little nose and a curve to her hips that made him think
of a skillfully. Turned out he'd been fantasizing about her for days and after school he'd stop by to be paid. But she was having a tea with a friend and told him to come after dark. He had known his father would never depart the pub so early and that his mother would not be expecting him. The thought of lingering with her in a bed with her in her bed electrified him the last block or so difficult for him to walk comfortably. His erection already straining his dungarees he'd been with her once before. Graciously petting it briefly in her kitchen. But at that point she was the first mature woman he touched in the give and savor of her body not as firm as that of his sisters friends not as blandly scentless was a revelation he was drawn to the moist tang of her skin the scant animal note at the nape of her neck between her breasts. It had already begun to rain and when he entered the darkened screen porch she was suddenly so afraid that he'd mistaken what she'd said to him earlier. But then the parlor light went out and she descended and wound about him
like a silken cloak. She was warm and naked beneath her thin bathrobe. She knelt and it hardly put him in her mouth when he helplessly came in embarrassment. He crumpled and made to get away but she gripped him and said it's OK as long as you do the same. And it was then at her command that he learned to swim the slant lightless depth make his way instead by only treading. Just before dawn he ran home in the steady rain to find a police cruiser parked in front of his house . All the lights were burning. He could see two of his sisters moving about upstairs . He went around back and heard his mother at the kitchen table telling the officers sipping the coffee she'd made that her husband and son had never not come home before. Really where could they have gone. It was too small a town. She didn't have to tell the officers that Jackie Brennan had no mistress for everybody in Illian well knew he was a big stories man whose infinite gratitude to his pretty wife for accepting his defamations sometimes also made him crazy when he drank his imaginings
usually centering on her infidelities which were none or else he'd be mopey and self-pitying one of the policeman caught sight of Hector peering around the hedge and called out his mother turning to see him when he went inside. They asked where his father was and where he'd been after he left the pub but he couldn't tell them about either thing especially about Patricia Cahill. As one of the cops was her cousin. His mother kept asking him how he could leave his father to drink alone. Hector was silent who was desperately worried too and begged the officers that he might accompany them as they went to retrace his steps from the path. As he rode in the police car he felt a much purer shame than anything he might have felt with Patricia Cahill. And he began to cry. He knew he should have stayed with his father as any decent son would. Most of all if that father was Jackie Brennan how many men craved such company of their sons for whatever reason. With him gone missing Hector suddenly understood what in fact what he in fact was for his father and what
he should always be his ideal figure of bodies to preen his sturdy sturdiest hand and foot and liver. He would never leave him again . When they got to the pub the officers and he walked in three directions looking for any sign of him. Then he spotted his father's pork pie hat at the head of an alleyway between two warehouses. The alleyway led down to an old dock on the canal . The end of the dock had clearly just collapsed the splintered edges fresh and jacket. The high water was swirling off moderately heavy with the current. The locks had been opened up stream. Could he swim. Asked the policeman. Patricia Cahill's cousin Hector shook his head. Because of his handicaps his father had never learned how and with was otherwise naturally reluctant to show himself . I'll call the dredger the other automatically said. His expression on looking at Hector one of instant regret. He's not dead pictures. He won't be calling anyone yet. Officer Cahill said he was only slightly taller than Hector
but he still patted him on the shoulder as if he were a young boy. Don't fret yet Hector. I bet your pops just sleeping it off downstream the next day the dredger was called. His body wasn't found for nearly a week and then not even by the riverman it showed up finally in a canal lock miles away close list and bloated and shiny and shiny black as an innertube forever traumatizing some pleasure boaters down from Canada. Hector had to travel with local authorities and identify him for the family his mother and sisters refusing to go. Hector was certain it was he. If only from the awesome gap between the corpses two front teeth his father would spit great arc ing streams of beer at company picnics. These wonderfully downy foamy rainbows to the delight of at least the men and children it was no doubt Jackie Brennan's finest talent but at the undertaker's that justing font play stiffly open and empty and even in the chilly locker the stench emanating from it and the rest of the body gripped
texture with an otherworldly ferocity as might some beast of the underworld . Its invisible claws lifting him straight off his feet. Thanks. I'll stop there. But the question was Are the characters based on someone or is it are they made up and well most all of them are absolutely made up . I've always found it difficult to to write about a real person because the reality of that person is so overwhelming and I less there. I don't know just a larger than life and endlessly charming and endlessly flawed and you know just so darn complicated and interesting. It just doesn't seem to work . And and then and then of course when there's a reality you know you always feel as if you have to honor that in some way and and as a fiction writer you don't really want to do that you want to honor what you need from that character in that story
. And so I always feel as if you know it's just more fun and actually easier just to make beef. And Hector is you know he's not really based on anyone I mean I don't I don't know anyone like him. I never have. But as I always say you know if. Obviously I spend many hours you know. Trying to write his character and and you know naturally I think a lot of all the characters come from some little part of me. You know something I am or something I think I am or something I fear you know maybe I like beer too much you know. So so I you know that's sort of the kernel maybe. And then I go from there depending on what the story requires. For me it's always what the story requires and what the the piece requires. You know the question is how how do I go about it do I plan out or do I just write it.
I have you know very loosely planned. You know I sort of set out beacons you know and in the vast ocean of nothingness and you know the beacon will be say I want the characters to be here or to have done this one thing in the scene maybe and then I think maybe they'll end up in this place. But I really don't know how I'm going to get to those points . And I think you know the more I plan the less the less excited I tend to be. You know when I'm when I'm working and I think that's really important. You know I think I've always thought that writing is is improvisation but purposeful improvisation. You know so it's a combination of the two things you know that I do have a purpose. I do have some notion of what's important in the scene with this character and I have some you know mysterious notion of how it might connect with and faith and hope and you know
maybe delusion of how it might connect with something else that's going on in the book. But but that moment is you know that's the moment that's so wonderful when you write. You know when you're discovering something and then and then suddenly the discovery is becomes something has become something inevitable and then truth at least to you. And then you work off of that. So it's constantly sort of laying down tracks that you didn't know were there you know you've laid down your own track and then you know if you've done it well enough or at least to your satisfaction and you just follow it. So it's so that's how that's how I work and often it's. You know it's a little frightening because there's a lot of track to be and there's a lot of you know there's an expanse and particularly in this book which you know it does have many different times and different locales has three primary characters . And so I felt as if you know that the choices
were endless and infinite. And that's exciting but it's also it's also daunting and a little burdensome sometimes to think that you know you really can go as far as you want. I mean that's the truth in any fiction but especially It just seems patently apparent you know. So to me you know given what I was laying out about the story. Did I say I'm going to spend way too much time on this. Make it a lot longer than I wanted to be. Yeah absolutely no. You know every book I start out I think this is going to be a nice little book that's going to about 175 pages you know just this little jewel and it's going to be exquisite. No I mean I did I did know that I would I would probably have other locales in other times and I just didn't know how far I would get into those you know whether it would be a passing reference in a little scene or
you know what I end up doing here which is you know writing some set pieces you know one based in Manchuria 1934 and so I know I mean I you know again and it's part of the part of the maybe it's related to this question to the previous question which is you know you think you know what you're doing and you have don't want to know what you're doing. And and you know part of the part of the trick is to try to you know stay excited as as much as you can and also have a little modicum of control. And those two things are sometimes at odds. Those two impulses the question was about the use of Korean in certain moments in my fictions and you know that was a night that was a I'm glad you mention that long because that's probably the moment I was going to mention because that's a moment that it's not just about of course a
translation. Right I mean you know it's about it's about a certain in particular in that book it's about a secret. It's about something that's veiled. And that and that and through language you know she's attempting to connect with him and connect to attempting to to tap something in his core that might you know prompt him to help her. So yeah I too felt when I read you know in it I knew that what she was going to ask him to help but I didn't know that I was going to use the word OPA which for me also has very deep emotional kind of resonances. Right. Because that's what my sister called me. Right. My younger sister so you know and that's it that's just an instance where probably I didn't have to think about it so much. Again it's more about feeling it you know someone asked.
Just before I did an interview just before this is you know what's good writing. You know it's a big question what's good writing but what one of the answers that what's good writing is that it has just this spark of emotional truth. You know that there's a moment either a description or a situation or a scene or what have you or detail that that that the reader will absolutely just recognize but feel as true you know . And you know that moment for you is that way it was for me as I wrote it. I felt like that was true because it captured a lot of things that I was getting he was she wasn't just asking for help. She was she was she was bringing him out or trying to bring him out of his of his own you know his own hiding. And which is a lot of what that book is about . So so that for me captured. Yeah. Well particularly in this book it's very hard to feel really comfortable because you can read all you know to to the end of time you can go you know there's
a good library in Princeton and and on the web these days of course have it's erroneous but. So you can do all that kind of research but you still don't have the kind of feeling and the atmosphere that you and sometimes that comes from talking to somebody which you know I often try to do you know in this book I talk to you know Koreans who are older of the generation and also some you know over the years combatants but also one of the great things for me has always been pictures photographs and you know for this book in particular I was given a real huge stack of archival photographs from one of the big newspapers in Seoul from that era one thousand nine hundred fourteen you know 50 to 57 You know during the war and then some years after the war and looking at those pictures because you couldn't go back to korea now and see anything. You know it's completely different
. But to see those pictures of you know ruined landscapes and ruined villages in the dusty road in the mud and you know trails of refugees and and good pictures you know where you can see people's expressions see what they're wearing. You know you can almost feel that. The other thing is that you know particularly for a book about war in the. And the effects and the costs of war. I looked at a lot of art you know in some ways you know I wanted to see how other people looked at that and one of the great things was you know Francisco Goya is famous for his you know his most famous painting is the one I think it's called 3rd of May. You know where the guy in the white shirt he's kind of wild haired fellow and he's he's like this and he's about to be shot. Right. I executed. That's his most famous work but he has this other series of prints these aqua tent
etchings that the line prints that. That I think all the disasters of war. And there's just these you know mano monochrome line drawings of the most horrific scenes. And these were done and you know the 900 century of course and you know scenes of just a man. You know tied to a post about to be executed or just some bodies of women and children and these were documented. You know these were documentary in spirit and also in form. So they're very simple drawings and of course they're called the Disasters of War and he was clearly thinking about what war really means it wasn't glorious pictures of men on horses in battle. You know in full color you know by whatever our guest artist you want to pick it was these very modest drawings. And I think that taught me a lot about
maybe how to go about showing you know certain a certain kind of veracity. Again an emotional truth more than historical truth I would never want someone to read this book and say oh this is a book about the credo that will tell you all about the Korean well. But you know it's not meant to. Well I the question or the same was that there was some poetic elements or cadences to my writing and I always I always want to. I'm always drawn to that I don't think I have. I do that consciously but for me it's never just a story. It's never even just the characters of it it's just absolutely the most ality and how you how you write about them and what kind of prose you you employ and create. And you know I I I started out writing when I was very young as a poet you know writing poetry I mean I wouldn't call myself a poet.
I was writing poetry. And you know it could hardly be called poetry. But and then later when I went to graduate school even though I was working in fiction most of my friends were poets because I always loved poetry read poetry and you know everything from you know contemporary poetry to of course you know Greek poetry and Milton and Wordsworth and I'm a sucker for romantic poetry . I love Shelley you know that's I know people think that smarmy these days and I do . So I. I'm just. That's how I am. You know and I may be too cowardly to write poetry because I don't want to write bad poetry. I'm so afraid of doing that. And but but I do take a lot I do take a lot of time to you know. You know listening in
and trying to to make the sound and sound the way I wanted to sound even you know maybe sometimes to my detriment. But but that's what I like . Even when and when I was in college when I'd write essays I'd try to make it sound like something and my professor was like What are you doing here. Well I you know the quote you know the caress the question is about the title of the book The surrendered. And of course you know the form the passive form of that and. Well the book is is really about how these these characters these three characters that I have and everyone else in the book is is surrendered to history you know surrender to the profound forces of of history .
And you can call it what you willed fate or destiny or just chance you know chance. But it's about it's about being subject to two you know these this you know these forces that are out of their control. It's also about as characters themselves. I mean I think I like the title because so much of what they do is surrender to each other in certain ways and surrender to their own you know darkest parts of their own darkest cells. Surrender to their own weaknesses. So there's there's a lot of there's a lot of relenting in this book. You know even though some of the action is unrelenting there's a lot of relenting going on. You know people just sort of wanting to see and in and kind of erase themselves. So it's I don't know it's hard to explain
without you really it doesn't make any sense. But you know it's the thematic stuff never makes any sense until you read it. Right. I mean it makes one bit of sense but it doesn't really mean anything. So I'll stop talking. The question was about maybe my familial experience you know the my family's experience during the war and how well you know the first chapter of this book which I didn't read from concerns a scene in which the main character one of the main characters June who at the time is a young girl you know 11 or 12 years old she's on a refugee train heading south with her family but instead of being inside the train they're on top of the train as a lot of refugees had to travel on top of the train because the trains were absolutely jam packed. There was no room with any of them. And I got that scene or I got the idea from that scene from my father who told me one day when I was in college a
second semester senior year I was doing this essay on Korea. I had a personal aspect to it so I just kind of blithely asked them you know if he would tell me you know if he had any stories from that time. And he proceeded you know he went back and forth he didn't seem to want to talk about the more we talked about and finally he he came to the scene where he was riding on this train with his with his brother and one night I don't know how many nights I can't remember now what he said how many nights he traveled the one night and M. Night the train lurched and his brother fell off. Younger Brother years old. Fell under the wheels and cut off his leg and the boy bled out right there and he lost his brother there. So that was a scene that you know obviously that stuck with me and that was you know more than 20 years ago. So it's taken me all this time to actually think about writing it I mean he told me just
basically as much as I told you. Not many details. And you know that reticence is amazing given. Well it's not amazing it's totally understandable. But just think about the you know the egregious incident and how you know how much it could have been a blot on his life. And yet of course I think so many people who survived and saw horrible things go on with perfectly ordinary lives which they have to do. And so you know all and a lot of this book is about a certain kind of persistence you know sometimes unwilling. Yeah I mean people don't want to talk about that because it's just too painful. You know I was reading in New York City last night for the first reading of the book tour and a fellow about my father's age came up and said You know I read the first few pages of your book and you know it's a scene where they're on top of the train he didn't
know what happened yet he just on top of the train he said that's exactly how I had it with my brother. We were on top of the train and I haven't really wanted to think about that any and all but I thought I had to think about it all day yesterday because you brought that up. That's why I'm so hurt you know . So it's clearly something that you know it is very important to him or is significant in his life but that he just completely put away which is absolutely natural. Well you know the question is do I imagine the conversations in between Korean characters in Korean then translate them. No I I don't think so I mean not such a good speaker of Korean. I I understand decently well but. So I suppose I could hear it but I you know I don't really I mean I guess I it's a mix. You know
I mean if the characters are truly Korean. Yeah maybe you're right. You know because there is a scene you know horrible scene but there's a scene where you know June is talking with her siblings and her mother and in some ways I did translate that scene even though maybe I couldn't write it in Korean in a funny way. Well I've learned Luckily a very boring life you know. The worst thing to have at me was what . Happened at prep school. But you know I don't know. You know I don't know. You know I don't know if I am you have to ask them I suppose but I don't think that. I mean I think being you know I think spending a lot of time writing is an
activity that necessarily makes you more vulnerable than not to a lot of things you know and during the writing of this book particularly I felt very vulnerable to all the reports that were coming in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan only you know the soldiers about not just battle but you know a lot of stories about people coming back. And I found myself shying away from reading them even though I knew I would eventually read them but I just you know I just because I'd been spending so much time with this book. So I don't know maybe that you know at some point you know that makes me you know less reticent but maybe makes me more. I don't know. Well anyway thanks thanks very much.
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Chang-Rae Lee: The Surrendered
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Episode Description
Award-winning novelist Chang-Rae Lee reads from his newest work, "The Surrendered" about the horrors of war and the sorrows of survival. Lee was born in Korea in 1965. He emigrated to the United States with his family when he was 3 years old. Raised in Westchester, New York, Lee attended Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. He graduated from Yale University with a degree in English and from the University of Oregon with a MFA in writing. He worked as a Wall Street financial analyst for a year before turning to writing full time. Lee teaches writing at Princeton University, where he has served as the director of Princeton's Program in Creative Writing. His first novel, "Native Speaker" (1995), won the PEN/Hemingway Award and centers around a Korean American industrial spy. The novel explores themes of alienation and betrayal as felt or perpetrated by immigrants and first-generation citizens, and played out in local politics. In 1999, he published his second novel, "A Gesture Life". This elaborated on his themes of identity and assimilation through the narrative of an elderly Japanese-American who remembers treating Korean comfort women during World War II. His 2004 novel "Aloft" received mixed notices from the critics and featured Lee's first protagonist who is not Asian American, but a disengaged and isolated Italian-American suburbanite forced to deal with his world.
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Chicago: “Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; Chang-Rae Lee: The Surrendered,” 2010-03-10, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 20, 2024,
MLA: “Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; Chang-Rae Lee: The Surrendered.” 2010-03-10. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 20, 2024. <>.
APA: Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; Chang-Rae Lee: The Surrendered. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from