by Chang-rae Lee
Riverhead Books (A member of Penguin Group, USA), New York, 2010
I received this free book as ARC from Penguin Group
Just a first sentence: when you start reading this book never stop listening to the tales of Chang-rae Lee.
This book is the story of June, Hector and Sylvie and also an excursus in Usa, Korea and China's History of the 20th century (30s, 50s, and 80s). The background is the Korean War in which a child, June (the war started in June 1950), lost her parents; an orphanage runs by two missionaries, Reverend Tanner and his wife Sylvie; and an ex-US army soldier, Hector.
The narrative style: Lee postpones the stream of the events, while telling the stories of these people he goes back and forth; but eventually you are impatient to know what happens next and keep reading.
The theme of responsibility and feeling of guilt runs through most of this book:
- Hector's guilt, a character escaped from some book of Dostoevsky, was to leave alone his drunk father at the pub, so the same night he fell down in the canal and died drowned. In my opinion this event will change forever the rest of Hector's life. Hector eventually meets someone to be happy: Dora, a woman no wanted by anyone (as Liza or Sonya in Dostoevsky); but something will stop this happiness. "He (Hector) felt he might like to be adopted away, too. (...) in a circumstance in which he would have no responsibilities except for some strenuous job or chores." p. 151
- June, ("a dusty little moon" p. 111), despite her willing of life, only once found her sickness undertsands why she has lost her son: "you could never love someone out of his nature, love someone out of his fate." p. 244 And when June was a child running away from the war, decided to climb atop a crowed train where, after an accident, her sibling dies. These 'wrong' decisions will be mate of June's life.
- Sylvie's feeling of guilt came from her willing of mercy and her beloved book Battle of Solferino by Dunant which inspired the creation of the Red Cross; but mercy and compassion have limits, as Reverend Tanner teaches to his wife Sylvie.
Lee seems to tells us that the Fate has lost somewhere these people; or the questions 'Could you change your destiny?', or "Could one ever reroot her own ... self?" p. 395, they have no answer.