The Surrendered – Chang-Rae Lee

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When I saw that The Surrendered was being marketed as a cross between A Fine Balance and The Poisonwood Bible I knew I had to read a copy. I think that the comparisons are justified, but The Surrendered is much easier to read and not quite as good.

The Surrendered begins in Korea in 1950, telling the story of how June Han escaped from the war-torn country. This initial section was easily a 5 star read for me. I was instantly drawn into the June’s world and my heart broke as I read about the things see had to endure. I had a little tear in my eye as these 30 amazing pages drew to a close.

She let go his still-warm hand, kissed his still-warm face. She stayed with him as long as she could. But when the last car of the train passed her she rose to her feet and steadied herself. And then she ran for her life.

Unfortunately the book went downhill slightly after that. The focus switched to June’s life in 1980s New York, which in comparison to her childhood in Korea was a bit dull. I was craving a return to the fascinating, roller-coaster of life I’d already been treated to. There was nothing really wrong with this modern section – it just didn’t have the atmosphere or historical insight of the first section; it was the type of story I had read many times before.

The book does flip back to Korea and we travel across to Europe with June as she searches for her son, but I never found the magic produced in the first chapter again.

I highly recommend that you read the first chapter of this book, but the remaining 400+ pages aren’t that special.

The Thoughts of Other Bloggers:

…while I recommend Lee’s writing, I feel this book is definitely for the stout of heart. Shelf Life

a very deep and thought-provoking novel. Serendipitous Readings

 Have you read any books written by Chang-Rae Lee?

 


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14 Comments

  1. diane says:

    WOW…this is yet another on my TBR list. I’m glad you recommended Chapter 1 Jackie…I’ll remember that!

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, I’ll be interested to see what you make of the rest of the book – enjoy :-)

  2. I am so with you, Jackie! Kingsolver and Mistry being two of my very favorite contemporary writers, the sell is an easy one for me. It is made even easier by my great appreciation for Lee’s work on its own merits. I have read Native Speaker and A Gesture Life, and I think both add something unique and lovely to today’s voices. I have actually just been wondering about him and his recent work, so I’m really glad you brought this one to my attention. Thanks!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sara, I’ve had mixed results with Kingsolver, but Mistry is a favourite. It is good to know that you have enjoyed some of Lee’s previous books. I will be keeping an eye out for them now as I can tell he could be an author I’d enjoy.

  3. Steph says:

    How disappointing for a book to start off so strong and then let you down. I HATE when that happens! I’d much rather a book be slow build with a fantastic ending rather than the other way around, but unfortunately, I think what you experienced here is pretty common…

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I agree – it is much better when a book improves as it progresses. A lot of books seem to have a fantastic first chapter. It is as if the author spends far longer ensuring it is perfect, which is a shame, as every chapter should be perfect!

  4. Meghan says:

    I’m disappointed that the modern section doesn’t live up to the historical part, but that seems to often happen for me. Not sure whether I will try this book or not – I should get to A Fine Balance first!

    1. Jackie says:

      Meghan, Yes! Please read A Fine Balance soon :-)

      I often find that the modern section isn’t as good as the historical one. In fact I can’t think of very many books where it has worked well.

  5. Oh, I just hate it when something starts out so incredibly and then just pans out. It feels like a sad waste of time, and then I always get confused if I hear that someone else likes it. Like, did I miss something? Was it just me? I can’t stand that! I may check this book out, but I will bear in mind your thoughts as well — thanks for the post!

    1. Jackie says:

      Natalie, Yes, I’ll be interested to see what other people make of this book. I’d love to know if others loved the first chapter as much as I did or was it just me?! There were a few good moments in the rest of the book – I wonder if that was enough to entertain other people, or if I’m just overly fussy!

  6. Why oh why would anyone compare something that is not mindblowingly astoundingly fantabulously awesome to A Fine Balance? I can’t even begin to tell you how much I adore that book, so when I read the first line of your review, I was instantly excited! Like you, I felt I had to read it. And then, then I wasn’t! :(

    Sorry for the comment that sounds so childish, but, it’s exactly how I feel!! lol, I don’t think anything can compare to A Fine Balance, personally. Much like nothing can compare to The Fountainhead, An Equal Music, To Kill A Mockingbird etc.

    Oh well…

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, I agree – I haven’t found anything that can compare to A Fine Balance yet – it is in a league of its own! I’m always tempted to read anything that is compared to Mistry’s book, but am always disappointed :-(

  7. mee says:

    I didn’t know it was marketed as A Fine Balance meets Poisonwood Bible. Sounds like it set itself for a really high bar (haven’t read Poisonwood, but A Fine Balance is really on the top there). I’m rather disappointed that you didn’t think more highly of the book. I’ve been wanting to read Changrae Lee’s for a while now, but I just haven’t heard anyone raving about his books. The Korean war is something I’m really interested in, so that first chapter does sound great, but I wish the whole book maintains the same level, as I can imagine the modern day setting would be less interesting for me, as it was for you.

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, It is a very high bar! I enjoyed Poisonwood Bible, but I know many people count it as their favourite book. I hadn’t heard of Chang-Rae Lee before I saw this book, but he does seem to have a lot of support in the US. I haven’t seen any bloggers raving about him, but perhaps his best books were released pre-blogging?

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