Topics that center on immigration and immigration rights in America give off mixed impressions. It feels as though America — paraded as the land of opportunity — is the epicenter of immigrant scuffles. The subject matter is a very sensitive one; roughly painted with the struggles immigrants are chucked with. Native Speaker by Lee is somewhat a relatable treatise of the common immigrant’s verve.
Using Henry, as both the narrator and protagonist of the story, he examines a more conceptual experience of the settler trying to get accustomed to the labyrinth of new life. A life characterized by immigrant rights; racism, living, and most importantly, identity.
Native Speaker is a novel that examines the varying dimensions of immigrants’ fettle and how authentic each of them is.
Chang-Rae Lee is a Korean-American writer. He has five novels to his name, various citations, and prominent awards. Born to both Korean parents, exhibited through the archetypal experience of immigrants, young Lee was slow to understand the English language and struggled immensely with it. Later on, he pulled through and even majored in English at Yale, 1983.
By 1995, he published his first novel, Native speaker. The novel received good reviews and is still widely read with colossal familiarity by immigrants. He also has written A Gesture life in 1999, Aloft in 2004, and The Surrendered in 2014, most of which have garnered so much pertinence; citations and awards.
Henry Park is a first-generation Korean-American that now has to render important decisions that will influence his identity. The novel begins with his wife, a Caucasian, leaving him, claiming she wants time to herself. She describes him as “surreptitious”, not the very best husband and an “emotional alien”.
He thinks about his marriage and how much he is disturbed by the influence this life-necessity has on him. He thinks about his imperfections, how far they appear to be, and how they always seem to impact the events that play on his life.
Similarly, he is in deep thought of his son, who has just died. And thinks his wife leaves him because of his unresponsiveness towards the demise of his son. Further, Henry thinks about his career, wherein he has failed a particular assignment that has caused them to lose money, Park identifies as a man that is not up to standard but tries hard to exonerate his failure.
He works as an "ethnic spy", collecting information on immigrants. He is an outsider working in the heart of America, for a company that invests in collecting information of immigrants.
Likewise, Henry also invests in collecting information about Asian settlers. He is profusely interwoven in the dexterity of American identity and almost forgets his Korean descent.
The novel is set in New York City, at a time when the American market is boycotted by John Kwang, an American politician of Korean descent and councilman. Henry is charged with the duty of getting data about the immigrant status of John Kwang. Notably, John is preparing to vie for the post of mayor.
As he sets himself for the task, he ponders on his parents and tries to find meaning in their teachings. Both parents die before the start of the novel; his mother, when he is ten years and the time of his father’s demise is unknown.
Regardless, he is closer to his father. He did not find much meaning in the teachings of his father as a young chap. The two always clashed in opinions. However, he comes to discover that there is more to what his father taught. This realization guides him to answer the questions he found racking within.
Since his assignment is based on gathering information on John Kwang, he feels he is betraying his identity and fellow countryman. Thus, he aims to consider himself as a multi-faceted person, like his father would have approved.
In the course of acquiring information, he establishes close and concrete proximity with Kwang. He sees everything he would see in a Korean in the councilman. Kwang lets him in because he is a brother in the land of strangers, expecting the objective solidarity that is unavoidable between folks of the same origin.
Unfortunately, Kwang is mistaken. Henry turns in his findings on Kwang causing his mayor ambitions to suffer and politician status to crumble. Henry has betrayed his fellow countryman; therefore, he queries the essence of dividing in such a job. He winds up the thought of his father wanting him to, indeed, be involved in such, thereby keeping up with two appearances; an individual borne of Korea, and a reformed immigrant in America.
Those who are more likely to understand the pretext of Native Speaker, are those who find themselves in similar situations — immigrants. Chang-Rae Lee excites his readers by expressing the condition of the common immigrant; a tussle linking identity and belonging. He, however, does not suggest a direct solution to this perplexing situation. Perhaps, the realization of Henry at the end of his fiction is enough, an answer.
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