Korean American Books

Summaries and reviews of fiction and nonfiction books by Korean American authors,
books about Korean Americans and Korea, and Korean literature in English translation,
including some academic works and a sampling on the Korean War

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Person of Interest, by Susan Choi

This tour de force by Pultizer-nominee Choi is an amazing exploration of one man's psyche and how his unlikable persona makes him an FBI person of interest in a bombing case, similar to the Unabomber. A deeply felt, carefully drawn portrait of the deep inner workings of Lee's mind and how the mind works to justify itself for past deeds and present weaknesses in pride, shame, and his isolation and yearning. Add to that a compelling plot to discover the source of a letter bomb that kills Lee's neighboring-office professor, and the mysteries of failure and accountability that Lee explores about his past sole love to Aileen, and the child they bore together, who has disappeared, the book is complex, hugely detailed in the nuances that accompany human fear, separateness, suspicion, yearning, revenge, and ultimately redemption. Choi writes with a vast and avid vocabulary rich in variety and description, and her inner examinations of thought and feeling, emotions and sensations, are equal to Philip Roth's, but with more sensitivity and less onanism. It's difficult to establish deep sympathy and empathy with such a difficult character as Lee, but Choi's razor-sharp eye brings about compassion along with the dislike. Quite a feat, and quite a book. Beautifully structured, brilliantly written, exhaustively explored such that every word had importance and meaning.

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