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A Gesture Life: A Novel

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( 13 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2006

    A great book for some....

    With A Gesture Life, Chang Rae Lee once again proves his literary greatness. Lee is a great story teller and has an innate ability to create fascinating characters. Lee never overtly portrays his characters to his American readers. He lets his readers grasp his characters through a series of mysterious, complex events that are carefully created to unveil ethnic and cultural disparities in our society. His main character, Franklin Hata, a Korean man living as a Japanese man, appears as a typical Japanese man whom his American neighbors expect him to be. Yet, later we learn that Hata has many secretes that he has been more than eager to divulge. Hata¿s final reconciliation with his adopted daughter and her son brings a happy ending that Hata has desperately sought all his life. For this book, Lee researched extensively and he went to South Korea to interview Korean elderly women who were forced to go the battlefields as sex slaves by the Japanese troops during World War II. Those elderly women were known as Comfort Women who are too ashamed to reveal their past, until recently. Before writing this book, Lee often said that he wanted to share those women¿s pain through his books. A Gesture Life is the result of Lee¿s long waited aspiration. As a Korean American, Lee shows his pride of his Korean heritage through his writing, and he sometimes quietly shares his love of his hard working Korean American parents for the sacrifices they had made. Lee should be highly commended for his genuine trying to share his Korean ethnicity and culture. Yet, perhaps because of his inability to thoroughly understand Korean language, there are many cases where Lee inadvertently fails. Despite Lee¿s sincere effort, he fails to share the agonies and pain of those Korean elderly women by the hands of the brutal Japanese troops. The graphic images of those Comfort Women that he pains in A Gesture Life do not disclose those women¿s continuous suffering. Korea¿s continuous animosity and Japan¿s reluctance to atone its past atrocities to amend its ties with Asian nations that suffered during Japan¿s colonial rules were never fully explained. The Korean immigrants¿ selfless love for their children is not well explained in A Native Speaker even though he spends a great length discussing about it. Perhaps, it is not Lee¿s job. In 1996, I read his first book, A Native Speaker, as a young graduate student, eager and curious to read a first major Korean American novel. It also helped that my professor strongly recommended. Like A Gesture Life, the book was superbly written but like A Gesture Life, Lee failed to deliver the same literary satisfaction to Korean American readers, which he was able to cogently do to his American readers. His Korean American characters are too lightly portrayed for cursory American readers to better understand. Many times, his Korean American characters are slightly too exaggerated and often those characters are simply too Korean to be realistic Korean Americans or Korean. Koreanness in his novels is often unnecessary and unrealistic. It is possible that despite his commercial and critical successes in the US, Chang Rae Lee is deemed a pariah in South Korea¿s literary circle. His books were politely well received by South Korean media but South Korean readers were either indifferent or uninterested. Still, Chang Rae Lee is one of the best writers of our generation and is a superb storyteller. We should expect see Chang Rae Lee¿s greater achievements in the future. As a fellow Korean American, I am deeply indebted to Lee for writing about Korea and its beautiful culture.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2004

    Beautifully Nuanced and Marvelously Understated

    I just read Chang-rae Lee¿s third novel, ALOFT, and I didn¿t really like it, but I especially liked this, his second novel, A GESTURE LIFE. A GESTURE LIFE is a quiet book, filled with deep emotion that is beautifully written and marvelously understated. The protagonist of A GESTURE LIFE is Franklin ¿Doc¿ Hata, a man of Korean parentage who was adopted by a wealthy Japanese couple and grew up in Japan. Hata, himself, though never married, adopted a racially mixed daughter, Sunny, whom he pushes to excel just as his own adoptive parents pushed him. Sunny, however, proves to be a bit more rebellious than was Hata. When A GESTURE LIFE opens, Franklin Hata, now retired, is living in Bedley Run, New York, a pillar of respectability and decorum. He takes very good care of his lovely home, he¿s polite to his neighbors and he was almost venerated by the customers who came into his shop. Hata, however, may have missed out on much of life simply because an incident in his youth caused him to ¿play it safe¿ and refuse to take chances. Better to live a peaceful, quiet life, albeit a lonely one, reasons Hata, than expose oneself to the pain of heartbreak. One of the things I liked most about A GESTURE LIFE is the fact that Lee constantly cuts back and forth between Hata¿s life ¿now¿ in Bedley Run and his youth in Japan. In this way, we learn who Franklin Hata really is and why he makes the choices he does, for even in Japan, Hata felt like an interloper and this feeling of ¿not belonging¿ caused him to excel at everything he did, from academic work to military training. The feeling of ¿not belonging¿ is also something that Hata knows intimately, for he has felt it all his life. While in the military, the one event that, more than any other, set the stage for the rest of Hata¿s life occurred: he met and fell in love with a Korean woman called K, a woman sent by the Japanese army to ¿comfort¿ its soldiers. Hata denied his feelings for K during the war, and so, partly in an effort to atone and partly to suppress the pain of heartbreak, Hata denies the full flowering of his own emotional life. He suppresses his urges. He sublimates his desires. Lee¿s prose in A GESTURE LIFE is elegant and quiet and contains none of the heavy-handed symbolism found in his third novel, ALOFT. His transitions from present to past and back again are almost seamless and the pace of the book is perfect (it¿s slow, but slow is perfect for A GESTURE LIFE). A few of the characters are rather one-dimensional, but Hata and Sunny are rich and complex. Although I preferred the narrative that took place during the past, both are masterfully written and Lee¿s eye for choosing just the right detail to bring his story to life is perfect. A GESTURE LIFE is an elegant and beautiful novel and, one that is ultimately very sad. It reminds me a more than a little of Kazuo Ishiguro¿s THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, although I don¿t think A GESTURE LIFE, as good as it is, is quite the masterpiece THE REMAINS OF THE DAY is. Still, Franklin Hata, is a man, who, like Stevens, tugs at your heart until you find it impossible to forget him. I would definitely recommend A GESTURE LIFE to anyone who loves quiet character studies and doesn¿t mind a slower paced book. It is also important book for anyone interested in the immigrant experience in America or in understanding the feelings of displaced persons. Readers of literary fiction should love A GESTURE LIFE, but aficionados of genre fiction probably won¿t find it to their liking. Although A GESTURE LIFE isn¿t perfect, it comes so close, and the character of Franklin Hata is so beautifully drawn I thought it would be a travesty to give the book anything less than five stars.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2000

    The same relation with every ordinary asian life in the US

    This book was amazingly true to my standards. It was exactly how i felt it was going to be ever since i heard about the book and read the short summary. My life, as a korean person, is very similar to this one, except that i am only a teenager, yet i face the racial interferences in my life living in the US. This book proves a lot and well deserves the 5 stars i rated it/

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2002

    a book to be remembered..

    As a person living in a gesture life myself, I felt as if I was reading my old dusty diary, only at a different point of life and at a different point in time of our history. The book is wonderfully written with unfolding stories that have glued me to it for the past couple of days. However, why am I getting a feeling that someone with little Asian background will not be able to truly identify him or her self with Doc Hara, the man who is the living example of Asian values; modesty and politeness?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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