Native Speaker

Native Speaker

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by Chang-rae Lee

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The debut novel from critically-acclaimed and New York Times–bestselling author Chang-rae Lee.

In Native Speaker, author Chang-rae Lee introduces readers to Henry Park. Park has spent his entire life trying to become a true American—a native speaker. But even as the essence of his adopted country continues to elude him, his Korean


The debut novel from critically-acclaimed and New York Times–bestselling author Chang-rae Lee.

In Native Speaker, author Chang-rae Lee introduces readers to Henry Park. Park has spent his entire life trying to become a true American—a native speaker. But even as the essence of his adopted country continues to elude him, his Korean heritage seems to drift further and further away.

Park's harsh Korean upbringing has taught him to hide his emotions, to remember everything he learns, and most of all to feel an overwhelming sense of alienation. In other words, it has shaped him as a natural spy.

But the very attributes that help him to excel in his profession put a strain on his marriage to his American wife and stand in the way of his coming to terms with his young son's death. When he is assigned to spy on a rising Korean-American politician, his very identity is tested, and he must figure out who he is amid not only the conflicts within himself but also within the ethnic and political tensions of the New York City streets.

Native Speaker is a story of cultural alienation. It is about fathers and sons, about the desire to connect with the world rather than stand apart from it, about loyalty and betrayal, about the alien in all of us and who we finally are.

His most recent book, On Such a Full Sea, will be published in January 2014.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Espionage acts as a metaphor for the uneasy relationship of Amerasians to American society in this eloquent, thought-provoking tale of a young Korean-American's struggle to conjoin the fragments of his personality in culturally diverse New York City. Raised in a family and culture valuing careful control of emotions and appearances, narrator Henry Park, son of a successful Korean-American grocer, works as an undercover operative for a vaguely sinister private intelligence agency. He and his ``American wife,'' Lelia, are estranged, partly as a result of Henry's stoical way of coping with the recent death of their young son. Henry is also having trouble at work, becoming emotionally attached to the people he should be investigating. Ruminating on his upbringing, he traces the path that has led to his present sorrow; as he infiltrates the staff of a popular Korean-American city councilman, he discovers the broader, societal context of the issues he has been grappling with personally. Writing in a precise yet freewheeling prose that takes us deep into Henry's head, first-novelist Lee packs this story, whose intrigue is well measured and compelling, with insights into both current political events and timeless questions of love, culture, family bonds and identity. This is an auspicious debut for Riverhead Books, Putnam's new division. First serial to Granta; QPB selection; audio rights to Brilliance; author tour. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Assigned to spy on a fellow Korean American, Henry Park faces an acute crisis of cultural conscience. LJ's reviewer found Henry a "wonderful, honest creation." (LJ 2/1/95)
From the Publisher
"One of the year's most provocative and deeply felt first novels...a searing portrait of the immigrant experience."—Vanity Fair

"With echoes of Ralph Ellison, Chang-rae Lee's extraordinary debut speaks for another kind of invisible man: the Asian immigrant in America...a revelatory work of fiction."—Vogue

"The prose Lee writes is elliptical, riddling, poetic, often beautifully made."—The New Yorker

"Deft, delicate...The book's narrative is lyrical, its plot compelling...The novel's interwoven plots and themes, its slew of singular characters, and Henry's ongoing recollections and reflections are rich and enticing."—Boston Globe

"A tender meditation on love, loss, and family."—The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
52.50(w) x 80.00(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Winner of the 2012 Fifty Books/Fifty Covers show, organized by Design Observer in association with AIGA and Designers & Books

Winner of the 2014 Type Directors Club Communication Design Award

Praise for Penguin Drop Caps:

"[Penguin Drop Caps] convey a sense of nostalgia for the tactility and aesthetic power of a physical book and for a centuries-old tradition of beautiful lettering."
Fast Company

“Vibrant, minimalist new typographic covers…. Bonus points for the heartening gender balance of the initial selections.”
—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

"The Penguin Drop Caps series is a great example of the power of design. Why buy these particular classics when there are less expensive, even free editions of Great Expectations? Because they’re beautiful objects. Paul Buckley and Jessica Hische’s fresh approach to the literary classics reduces the design down to typography and color. Each cover is foil-stamped with a cleverly illustrated letterform that reveals an element of the story. Jane Austen’s A (Pride and Prejudice) is formed by opulent peacock feathers and Charlotte Bronte’s B (Jane Eyre) is surrounded by flames. The complete set forms a rainbow spectrum prettier than anything else on your bookshelf."
—Rex Bonomelli, The New York Times


"Classic reads in stunning covers—your book club will be dying."

Meet the Author

Chang-rae Lee is the author of Native Speaker, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for first fiction, A Gesture Life, Aloft, and The Surrendered, winner of the Dayton Peace Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Selected by The New Yorker as one of the twenty best writers under forty, Chang-rae Lee teaches writing at Princeton University.

Brief Biography

Princeton, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
July 29, 1965
Place of Birth:
Seoul, Korea
B.A. in English, Yale University, 1987; M.F.A. in Creative Writing, University of Oregon, 1993

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Native Speaker 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
We read Native Speaker as a text in The Literature of Immigration class at our college. Chang-rae Lee uses meticulous, deliberate diction. Native Speaker is captivating. It keeps the reader in suspense and engaged with the character of Henry or with the conflicts in the story. Lee also brings out the struggles of cultural awareness and acceptance. Characters are carefully crafted and constructed with multiple facets of their personalities which allows the reader to identify with their own conflicts. Native Speaker was well written with complex ideas and themes presented in a simple and concise manner. We highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to relate to the cultural differences and conflicts that arise for many immigrants while adjusting to a new country.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Chang-rae Lee's novel is a well constructed example of the modular, methodical thinking of a spy. As he recounts the detail of the events as they have transpired, he makes certain to leave out nothing and his recall is flawless. The process is painstakingly slow. But it is in these meticulous details that the story both evolves and eventually ensnares its readers. It is within this deconstruction that we become aware of the Korean/Asian culture and what Stew labels as Henry's 'circumspect' nature. This story is both intriguing and thought provoking, especially as you delve deeper into the mind of an immigrant, particularly one of Asian descent. This is an Asian perspective regarding Asians in America. It illustrates a desire to assimilate into an environment in which one continuously feels alien.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was based on a list of 17 traits written by Henry Park's wife to describe his personality. As you read this book, you begin to realize that every aspect in each scene throughout relates to one or more of Henry's assumed traits. Lee took a list and turned it into a book! Brilliant!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Chang-rae Lee has a gift for being able to capture people as they are, while using them to demonstrate entire cultures. The relationship between Lelia and Henry is not just one of wife and husband but represents the dynamic between American and Korean-American cultures. Lee's sudden jumps to different times and places can be confusing, but flawlessly captures the human mind's inability to remain in the present for any lenght of time.
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As an immigrant, this book was very relatable to me and the experience of being western and Asian at the same time. The plot was interesting, at times thrilling. The idea that people exist doing the work the character does is fascinating by itself. Overall a very interesting, generally well-written book. I did occasionally have to re-read sentences because the sentence ran on, or the phrasing was different. But was glad to have read this and learned a little more about myself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I, as well as another persons I read, had to read this book for my honors 10 english class. Although, I loved this book. It was graphic, but it really gave the story an edge that I simply loved! Chang-Rae Lee is an excellent writer, in my opinion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I've bought in a long, long time that has really touched me. There is such a beautiful simplicity in the language Mr. Lee uses, but the pain and alienation of his characters comes out just as clearly as if he were as wordy as Thomas Woolfe. This is a stellar accomplishment with the same far-reaching social implications of Elison's 'Invisible Man.' A masterwork from an important new voice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is wonderfully written. If you are a korean and was raised in a traditional family, you will be able to relate to what is said in the book. The book starts slow and ends quickly. A wonderful book to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Lee's debut was successful. This is the story about the man who's in search of his true identity even though there is no intention or consciousness of his own. I guess this man is confused and has just begun to listen to his heart murmuring something to him, vaguely though. Even when I finished the last page of the volume, the story seemed never to be started yet. Rather, the man's journey is beginning at that moment. Great and a bit lighter pleasure for those who have enjoyed Kundera's works.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for school, and it was pretty graphic (I think) to have sophomores read in an english class (although it is honors). Some explicit sex scenes, and kindaof confusing plot.