Chang-rae Lee Native Speaker
Born in 1965, Lee is a Korean-born American novelist.
Although it employs a spy-novel plot, Native Speaker (1995) focuses mainly on themes of cultural assimilation and language use among Korean Americans. Henry Park, the protagonist, who was born in New York City but raised in a traditional Korean household, works as a spy for a private, commercial intelligence agency. He is assigned to infiltrate and report on the political organization of the charismatic Korean-American New York City councilman, John Kwang. Over the course of the story, Henry must come to terms with his ethnicity and with his desire to be accepted by both American and Korean-American communities. These inner conflicts affect his career, his marriage to an Anglo-American woman, the impact of his son's death, and the way he relates to his Korean family and culture. While some critics argue that Native Speaker fails as a spy novel, most agree that Lee's prose style, well-drawn characters, and insights into the Asian-American immigrant experience make it a highly successful autobiographical novel. Representative of the critical reaction, Rand Richards Cooper writes that "[h]idden inside Native Speaker is a memoir struggling to get out—a rapturous evocation of a past life…. I wish Chang-rae Lee had scrapped the spy stuff and written that book."