At the end of the Korean War, the lives of orphan June Han and American soldier Hector Brennan collide. Thirty years later, they meet again and are forced to come to terms with the secrets of their devastating past.
©2010 Chang-Rae Lee (P)2010 Recorded Books, LLC
“Lee’s masterful fourth novel bursts with drama and human anguish as it documents the ravages and indelible effects of war.” (Publishers Weekly)
"[C]ompletely engrossing story of great complexity and tragedy" (Library Journal)
I had such high hopes for this book. I love reading historical fiction, especially works about colonialism and Asia, so I jumped at the chance to listen a novel about the Korean War. But I became frustrated by the tired tropes of the novel, the melodramatic tone of the narrator, and the unsympathetic characters and unrealistic plot. I was about two hours from the end of the book, when the tension should have been building to a climax, when I made the decision to stop listening. I rarely abandon books, especially when I'm so far from the end, but I had stopped caring about what happened to the characters and it was a painful listen. The narrator sounded like he was narrating crime fiction, which didn't help my opinion of the book.
This makes me sad to write since I've met the author, Chang-rae Lee, a man who couldn't have been more kind and charming or humble. But his book, The Surrendered, is simply awful. Firstly, the book desperately needs a team of editors to steer Lee back to its myriad flaws needing repair. It's missing many details essential to the story, pieces which are astonishingly left out. I've never listened to or read a book in which so many words are just made up, nouns and verbs turned into adjectives and adverbs seemingly out of convenience to the author. And the reuse of the same words over and over--he must have used "welling" in 10 different ways 30 different times.
The story line is unbelievable, even for historical, wartime fiction, and I'm not talking about the brutality of the combatants. There's not a single happy character in the lot, and the one who comes closest is a drug addict. As one other reviewer put it, Lee's use of tropes is just nauseating. I can't tell if he's trying too hard to impress readers or himself by twisting every description into something symbolic and deep, or whether he just can't make himself write cleanly and concisely.
The narrator needs to find a new line of work. He was just not good in any way, shape or form. I know that sounds mean, but it's the truth, I'm sorry to say.
To think that this book is up for a Pulitzer Prize is purely astonishing. It's such a bad nomination that it makes me think so much less of the Pulitzer Prize itself--a marker by which I've often bought books. Just as shocking is the fact that Lee is a professor of literature at Princeton! Who knows? Maybe he teaches better than he writes.
Unlike the other reviewer who simply gave up on the book, I finished it out of respect to Lee and the fact that I paid for it. Frankly I wish I'd bailed out, because the ending was not even close to being worth it. Sorry, Chang-Rae, you're a very nice man, but I can't imagine letting anyone else read this book without fair warning
This book and the narrator are terrific despite the brutality of the content. Although I am familiar with the history of the conflicts between Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese in the 20th century and America's role in this complex part of the world, this fictional story vividly portrays the effect of war on civilians. I don't think that the average American reader has any idea how World War II and the Korean War affected people in those countries and how these effects continue to shape immigrants 50 years later. Chang- Rae Lee's prose is stunning, particularly in an audio book format. This is one of my favorites from Audible
Try as I may, in the end I did not care about the characters. I did get to the end but asked myself why??? Perhaps I missed the point. My wife asked if she should read The Surrendered.... ahhh...NO.
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