A compelling memoir set against the backdrop of major historical events of the mid-20th century.
To say that Lee’s formative years were distinctive is an understatement. Born to a Chinese father and a German mother, he lived in China, Germany, Mauritius and Iran before immigrating to the United States in 1946. As might be expected, the first chapter of his book shows his remarkable adaptability as he negotiates multiple languages, cultures and educational systems. Even after he reaches the United States, his experiences as a young man span many locations: high school in New York City, an undergraduate career at Harvard, summer employment in New Hampshire, graduate school in Baltimore and Chicago, and an early teaching career at the University of Maryland. A central theme of academic freedom emerges in a chapter titled “Witnessing Witch Hunt in Washington,” as several of Lee’s professors at Johns Hopkins face professional consequences for their beliefs and actions. A decade later, Lee himself is investigated by the FBI while working as a Far Eastern Analyst in the Foreign Affairs Division of the Library of Congress. This setback foreshadows what is to come and leads Lee in 1963 to the University of Hawaii, where the bulk of the memoir takes place. As America’s involvement in Vietnam escalates and the anti-war movement gathers strength, questions about Lee’s role as adviser to the Student Partisan Alliance, a radical activist organization, lead the administration to rescind its recommendation to grant Lee tenure. Throughout the book, but particularly in these two extensive chapters, Lee cleverly and effectively weaves his personal history together with the political happenings on campus, in the nation and abroad. He also provides succinct background information for readers who may be unfamiliar with the era’s events and includes photographs, documents and articles to support the text. The memoir concludes with the resolution of the tenure issue and the author’s trip to parts of Asia (including Saigon) in 1969, as well as further protest actions in 1970. However, because Lee only recounts the first half of his life in this volume, readers will sense that there is much more to tell.
A well-written memoir that examines the author’s personal and political struggles in academia and the world at large.