Thursday, April 3, 2008

A GESTURE LIFE by Chang-rae Lee

A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee is a rich and poignant story about a Japanese man of Korean descent who emigrates to the U.S. Franklin Hata leads a quiet life as a model citizen and retired medical supply store owner in an upscale town. Most of his story is told in flashback, and there are two main threads in his past. One is his stint as a medic during World War II, and the other is his more recent past, particularly the evolution of his relationship with his adopted daughter Sunny, also Korean. Both stories are heartbreaking in their own way. During WWII the Japanese conscripted Korean women into service to provide sex to the soldiers. His friendship with one of the "comfort" women has a tragic consequence that in some ways parallels a critical event in Sunny's life. After WWII, Franklin manages to avoid true intimacy, even with Sunny. By the end, however, he has changed, partly by Sunny's reentry into his life with a young son in tow, and partly by events that have caused him to connect with his neighbors and acquaintances. The words "gesture" and "fa├žade" are repeated throughout the novel and are surely metaphors that apply to Franklin, as his calm demeanor belies a traumatic past. The rhythm of the prose in this gem of a novel is very yoga-like, even as the story becomes progressively more intense.

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