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A Gesture Life

A Gesture Life

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A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee is a taut, suspenseful story about love, family, and community, and the secrets we all harbor. It is the story of a proper man, an upstanding citizen who comes to epitomize the decorous values of his New York suburban town. Yet as his story unfolds, precipitated by events that take place around him, we see his life begin to unravel.

Courteous, honest, hardworking, and impenetrable, Franklin Hata, a Japanese man of Korean birth, is careful never to overstep his bounds. He makes his neighbors feel comfortable in his presence, keeps his garden well tended, bids his customers good-bye at the doorway to his medical supply shop, and ignores the taunts of local boys. Now facing his retirement years alone, Hata begins to reflect on the price he's had to pay for living this quiet "gesture life."

After suffering minor injuries in an accidental fire, he remembers the painful, failed relationships of his past; with Mary Burns, a widow with whom he had an affair, and with Sunny, a Korean girl he adopted when she was seven, who is now a grown woman he hasn't spoken to or seen in years. As Hata recalls the strained, troubled relationship with Sunny, he begins to understand why his daughter, unlike himself, "felt no more at home in this town, or in this house of mine, or perhaps even with me, than when she first arrived at Kennedy Airport."

Unknown to Sunny, there is a secret that has shaped the core of Hata's being; his terrible, forbidden love for a young Korean woman from his past. Serving as a medic in the Japanese army during World War II, Hata was assigned the task of overseeing the female "volunteers; women taken against their will to provide sexual favors for the men in the battalion. One of these "comfort women" he came to love. These remembrances, tinged with grief and regret, ultimately draw Hata once again to his daughter; and help him begin to attain a more truthful understanding of himself.

Review:
'A Gesture Life is a beautiful and subtle novel, one of the best I read this year. It is the story of "Doc" Hata , a Korean raised as Japanese who moves to New England after serving as a medic for Japan in WWII. Since childhood Hata has made fitting in and being accepted and respected the single goal of his "gesture" life. In doing so he betrays the three women who are most important to him.

Told in Hata's voice the "Doc" is a classic unreliable narrator . His inaccurate perception of events is a brilliant way of showing that it is the appearance of things and not the truth that is important. It takes active reading to really know what is going on.

The story of K, the comfort woman, was very hard to read. It is a part of history that I needed to learn. Hata tells us and believes himself that he loves K yet he uses her and is unable to come to her defense. Similarly he betrays Sunny, his adopted daughter, when he forces her to have a late term abortion in her late teen years. When he has the opportunity for happiness later in his life with Mary he remains emotionally distant and loses her.

The turn around in his life comes when Sunny and her young son return to the area. He also has a chance for redemption when he stands behind the family who buys his store.

Lee uses some beautiful water symbolism in the novel. At one point Hata takes a scalding bath and both Hata and Mary have near drownings in the pool. When Hata gains insight into what is truly important he facilitates two rebirths; he saves his grandson and his friend from drowning.

This is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I am definitely a Chang Rae Lee fan.
' - Goodreads review

Softcover

Condition: Lightly used condition - Has name scribbled out inside front page

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