Native Speaker was the thesis written by Chang-rae Lee to earn his M.F.A. degree from the University of Oregon in 1993. In 1995, the novel became the first book published by Riverhead Books, a subsidiary of what became Penguin Putnam. Committed to books that open up new views and present new ideas, Riverhead fared very well with Lee’s novel, which became an instant critical and commercial success and launched its author’s career.
The novel begins when its first-person narrator and young protagonist, well-spoken and well-educated Henry Park, accepts a new assignment from the shadowy commercial spy agency he is working for in New York City. Because of his ethnicity and his ability to blend into a multicultural environment, he is chosen to try and collect information on the ambitious, rich Korean American businessman-turned-mayoral-candidate John Kwang. Joining Kwang’s campaign undercover, Park has to make up for a previous botched assignment in which he came to sympathize with his target, a Filipino psychiatrist.
At the same time, Park has just been left by his Caucasian wife Lelia, who blames him for utter emotional coldness in the aftermath of the accidental suffocation of their seven-year-old son, Mitt. She has handed him a long list of all his faults, among them being too alien and detached from life.
As Park slowly makes his way into Kwang’s organization, Lee enriches his narrative with Park’s mental reflections and physical...
(The entire section is 599 words.)