A GESTURE LIFE by Chang-rae Lee


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From the author of the award-winning Native Speaker (1995), a remarkable portrait of a distinctively tragic, expansive man coming of age in America. “Doc” Hata (once Kurohata), a Japanese-American pharmacist in the fraying town of Bedley Run, New York, is no troubled youth, which is the first of unexpected—and welcome—fulfillments here: a story in which an American man “appreciate[s] the comforts of real personhood, and its attendant secrets” only after he’s retired. A lifelong bachelor, Hata, a Japanese veteran of WWII, enjoys the comforts of a well-established, socially comfortable life. After a minor accident at home, Hata is taken to the hospital and hears of the death of Mary Burns, as well as news of his estranged daughter, Sunny. Having adopted Sunny when she was eight, Hata recalls the painful dissolution of his relation with her—a breach that originated with the abortion he insisted on for his daughter when she was 18. Mary Burns, a widow who had not only helped Hata with Sunny but had been his lover, amicably leaves him after finding him unable to return her affection. Startled to feel such loneliness at the center of his otherwise contented life, Hata finds its root in his wartime months with Kkutaeh, an unforgettably evoked comfort woman who was consigned to Hata’s care in his outpost during the war. Called “K,” she was a Korean-born, Japanese-raised woman of fine intelligence and sweeping grace, a companion soul he fell in love with but was unable to save from death. In these scenes, Lee’s prose and dramatic momentum carry a lean, rich precision to indelible effect: his writing is washed in a shimmer of suppressed grief, and it brings Hata to a bright, calm, right reconciliation with his daughter, his past, and with himself. Lee is a writer of exquisite intimacy and delicate disclosures—and in Hata, he’s found the perfect means to explore these gifts.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1999
ISBN: 1-57322-146-5
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999


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