Preview/Review: Native Speaker by POC Writer Chang Rae Lee

Image from Penguin Random House.

Specs on POC Novel Native Speaker

  • 349 pages
  • First published in 1995
  • Published by Riverhead Books
  • Fiction, novel

Summary of POC Novel Native Speaker

New York — A Korean American man by the name of Henry Park tries to be an American but carries no allegiance to any country or belief. He marries a white woman, has a child and works–with much talent and unbeknownst to his family–as a corporate spy collecting dirty secrets from migrant groups for people willing to buy them.

His knack for espionage starts to flounder after tragedy hits his family, and once his wife leaves him, Henry is more than ever like an alien. But he’s given a second chance to prove himself at work—he’s tasked to befriend and infiltrate the camp of a rising Korean American politician who pledges to fight and defend the minority communities of Flushing. As he inches closer and closer to the heart of the camp, Henry struggles even more deeply with the shapelessness of his identity.

Before You Read POC Novel Native Speaker

Just read it, yo.

Thoughts on POC Novel Native Speaker  

When I first received this book, I had no expectations. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to read it. But after reading the first page, I was hooked. It’s a slow burn, and not for everyone. Some people have complained that it’s dull, too cerebral and introspective and unclear. While this may all be true, perhaps as person of color myself, I thought the style of the writing did well to suit the topic of the novel.

Oftentimes, our lives are unclear, shapeless and largely introspective—we’re trying to figure out what to do, what is the correct, and how to negotiate the small space between our cultural history and the present tense American.

 I admit there are parts that are too slow, a little repetitive and obscure. But at the end, all the threads that seemed to break or sink rise to the surface of the water and reveal a thoughtful and intricate web of ideas that barely intersect or correlate, but still do and for good reason. (Does that make sense!!!?) 

As a Korean American myself, this book completely took me by surprise. For so long, I didn’t think there existed a writer from my side of the proverbial town who made sense of our collective journey. POC writer Chang Rae Lee achieved just that. In 1995!

Other Reviews on POC Novel Native Speaker

The NY Times

Publishers Weekly



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