The question of what makes “home” stands at the heart of Chang-rae Lee's Native Speaker. Many of the characters in this novel are first or second generation Korean Americans who are struggling to find a place in their adopted culture, to really make it home.
Henry Park, for instance, is still trying to adapt. Even though he was born in America, Henry grew up in the Korean culture because his parents were immigrants. He spoke Korean at home as a young child and, therefore, had to learn English when he went to school. He was taunted by his classmates for his failures and even earned the nickname “Marble Mouth.” America is still not fully home to Henry, even though he is an American citizen.
As the years go by, though, Henry grows and excels. As an adult, he works for Glimmer & Company, a firm that spies on ethnic communities to discover and combat potential radicals. Henry is “at home” in Korean neighborhoods because his background, so he can fit in well. He even gets right into the inner circle of candidate for Mayor John Kwang.
Henry, however, has a difficult time making a home for himself in his own home. He and his wife, Lelia, are having issues in their marriage after the death of their son. Henry does not know how to express his grief, and Lelia thinks that he is cold. By the end of the novel, though, Henry and Lelia have moved forward together and have started a new life and are back to making a home for themselves.
Other characters also struggle with the idea of home. John Kwang, for instance, wants to be so American that he forgets his connection to the Korean community. He and his family end up going “home” to Korea after scandal brings his dreams crashing down around him.
Henry's father also has difficulty finding a home. As a first-generation immigrant, he feels that he must work hard and become American, yet his success leaves him rather empty and ultimately unhappy. He was more content running a small grocery store in a Korean neighborhood than owning a grocery chain in upstate New York. Success and wealth does not equal home.