Where does the book Native Speaker show the challenges faced during immigration?

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"In America," he said, "it's even hard to stay Korean."

As The New York Times wrote about Chang-Rae Lee's debut novel, it "proved him to be not just a graceful writer but a deft and original thinker about the vagaries of assimilation—about what it means to feel like a perpetual outsider in your adopted country." Henry Park, the protagonist and narrator of Native Speaker, is an outsider in America, a Korean immigrant who is trying to fit into American society. Like in Invisible Man, a novel to which it is sometimes compared, Park is always aware of his race, his ethnicity, his double consciousness, his "otherness" in a country that claims to be built by immigrants but is always wary of them. His wife, his co-workers, nor his classmates will never accept him as a "real" American, and this is one of the main ideas of Lee's novel.

Park is employed to infiltrate the political campaign of a fellow Korean-American, John Kwang, who seems to be living the immigrant dream and is initially popular in his run for office. Park sometimes conflates his story with Kwang's: "Maybe a someone we Koreans were becoming, the latest brand of American" (139). They are both immigrants who want to make good, yet are always reminded that they are not "true" Americans and that there are always those who will resent them being in America. Both experience racism, which explodes when a group protests Kwang and hold signs saying "AMERICA FOR AMERICANS." What Lee seems to be saying is that, despite the myth of the immigrant experience, America is not welcoming, is not accepting, and is, fundamentally, a racist country, despite its best intentions. It's an exploding of the myth that is uncomfortable but undeniably powerful.

Original NYT review: https://www.nytimes.com/1995/04/09/books/excess-identities.html

*I'm using the Riverhead paperback edition.

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Where does the book show evidence about the challenges faced during immigration?

Native Speaker is largely about the challenges of being an immigrant in America. The protagonist, Henry Park, who narrates the novel, never quite belongs: he was born in Korea, but lives in America, marrying a white American woman, from whom he is separated when the novel starts.

Author Chang-Rae Lee is also Korean American and is telling what has become one of the quintessential American stories, that of the immigrant experience. While there are many inspiring immigrant stories, Native Speaker tells a far more ambiguous and conflicted story. Park finds himself trapped between two worlds, belonging to neither. Although he strives to assimilate, he never is able to shed his accent and always sees himself as an outsider, something that he is constantly reminded of by the white world around him. Even his own wife, after leaving him, writes a critical note for him in which she calls him "illegal alien, emotional alien, Yellow peril: neo-American, stranger, traitor" (5).

One may be reminded of W.E.B. DuBois's concept of "double consciousness," which proposes that a non-white American is always aware of themselves as both an American and a person of color and can, therefore, never fully fit in. Park never forgets who he is. To make the point stronger, he is also an industrial spy, infiltrating the campaign of a Korean-American politician. His otherness causes him something of an existential crisis, but he also has to deal with the everyday racism of those around him, such as peers calling him "marble mouth" or "China boy."

I'm using the Riverhead Books paperback edition.

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