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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The Surrendered

The Surrendered - Chang-rae Lee The story in this novel is filled with flashbacks in the lives of two principal characters to earlier episodes during and following the Korean War when their lives intersected. There's a third principal character who's background is also explored. All three of them experienced tragic losses of loved ones or family members during their youth. Then as if the flashbacks were not enough, the reader is hit with a tragic incident and a terrible disappointment in the current time line of the narrative. The two principal characters come together thirty years after the Korean War to seek a sort of catharsis from their shared past experiences. The past is revealed through bits and pieces throughout the book, and the book contains hints along the way that it's leading up to a final and ultimate climatic incident from their past. It is the suspense of this coming revelation that pulls the reader's interest through to the end of the book.

It is my understanding that the tragic incident described in the first chapter is based upon experience of the author's father as a child refugee in the Korean War. It's a story that will haunt the reader. The author does a neat job of bringing up this story again at the end of the book to wrap up the story into a satisfying conclusion. However, this is NOT a feel good novel.

It’s clear that the author’s intent was to explore the lifelong damaged done to the psyche of those who have been exposed to violence and regret at an early age. However it's my observation that author tried to depict the tortured nature of their souls by exploring their sexual desires and actions. I wish the reader could have been provided more than a glimpse of their inner feelings and motivations. In short, there’s too much sex for me and not enough psychology in this book.

I tried to judge the appropriateness of this book for a reading group. The book contains much good discussion material, but the emphasis on sexual matters could turn off many readers. I'll probably not recommend it.

It's interesting to note that a book about the 1859 Battle of Solferino in Italy plays a symbolic role in this story. That battle is a symbol of suffering leading to hope. The immense suffering caused by the Battle of Solferino and witnessed by Henry Dunant inspired him to a campaign which led to the founding of the Red Cross.