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A Gesture Life
by Chang-Rae Lee

A Gesture Life is even more of an achievement [than Native Speaker]. It's a beautiful, solitary, remarkably tender book that reveals the shadows that fall constantly from the past, the ones that move darkly on the lawns of the here and now.

    
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (1 of 30), Read 61 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Tuesday, October 15, 2002 08:31 PM Franklin Hata, the main character in A Gesture Life reminds me of the butler in The Remains of the Day. Not so much because of who he is or what he does, but by what he does not do. He keeps his life in control in the same careful way. But as he reviews his carefully maintained life, we start to understand the forces that formed him. If any of you had thought to skip this one, my advice is: don't. This is one of the best books I've read this year. Moving, full of meaning, tender and warm, and beautifully written. This site might be of interest to some of you. http://endeavor.med.nyu.edu/lit-med/lit-med-db/webdocs/webdescrips/lee1597-des-.html Sherry
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (2 of 30), Read 57 times Conf: Reading List From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Wednesday, October 16, 2002 03:58 PM I finished this last night and really enjoyed it. Franklin Hata seemed to be a complex man, the product of an early life that had a profound impact on him (both the childhood experience of being "adopted" by the Japanese family in order to go to school and the war experiences). I found it ironic that most of his adult life was spent living what appeared to be the "gesture life" he wished to avoid. I wasn't sure what to think about his relationship with Mary. I got the feeling he didn't really know how to have an intimate relationship -- either with Mary or Sunny. I'm looking forward to getting more insights from the rest of you on Franklin's relationships, including those with the people who considered him their friend (like Renny Banerjee and Liz). Lynn
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (3 of 30), Read 49 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, October 16, 2002 09:16 PM Franklin had a hard protective layer around him. I'm sure his experience as a medic in the Imperial Army had more to do with this than his upbringing. He loved, but never allowed himself to feel love back. I'm thinking that his awful experience of loving someone (and not being able to protect her) was the basis for his inability. Just imagine what it would be like to have to kill someone in order to protect her. His failure to "protect" her had dire consequences. If he had killed her that would have had dire consequences, too. So he had no choice whatsoever. The "gestures" in his life were an attempt to create choices for himself. He adopted Sunny. An atonement? He loved Mary. But couldn't love her freely. Thomas was his saviour. He loved him unconditionally and it allowed him to defrost his life. Sherry
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (4 of 30), Read 52 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Wednesday, October 16, 2002 10:00 PM I was very suspicious of Franklin at first. I wondered if he had abused his daughter. Then as I read more of his story I decided that the two of them, Franklin and Sunny, couldn't connect because they came from similar backgrounds. Sunny was from an orphanage and she wasn't adopted until she was 11. She didn't seem capable of love until she had Thomas. And as you said, Sherry, Franklin couldn't defrost until he met Thomas. Jane
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (5 of 30), Read 47 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Thursday, October 17, 2002 12:57 PM This is my first post, and I've been looking forward to seeing what others thought of this book, which I enjoyed. I found Hata a fascinating and sad character, but I thought his recollections of his early years were disturbing, in that he seemed to have no emotional reaction to leaving his birth parents (just a very rational explanation for the shift) and his relationship with his adopted parents was equally cool. Perhaps this early loss contributed to his inability to connect with others. His adoption also thrust him, at an early age, into the role of the outsider trying to fit in, a role he played with enthusiasm by the time he reached Bedley Run. Lee's portrait of Hata's relationship to others in that town was fascinating. Did Hata fully realize that people appreciated the opportunity he gave them, to show how broad-minded they were? I thought this book was a wonderful portrayal of a complex personality. After so many tragic events and wistful, missed opportunities in Hata's life, I was grateful for the more hopeful ending.
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (6 of 30), Read 46 times Conf: Reading List From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Thursday, October 17, 2002 01:08 PM Welcome, Mary Ellen! I shared your feelings about Hata's recollections of his early life. I don't have the book nearby to check, but I seem to remember something about his description of leaving his adopted family on the dock as he left for the war that seemed particularly unemotional or disconnected on his part. You make a good point about his having to "fit in" to another culture from the time he left his birth family. Lynn
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (7 of 30), Read 50 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Thursday, October 17, 2002 01:10 PM Welcome to Constant Reader, Mary Ellen -- which, BTW, also happens to be the name of my very best friend of some forty years. This is a super spot for talking books. I just dropped into the thread to say that unfortunately I am going to be playing catch-up with this one. Jim is bringing it with him from his trip to the States -- and while his return was slated for yesterday -- he was instead asked to return to Texas for a Friday meeting and will arrive back in Hasselt on Sunday afternoon sometime. All of which means I won't get to start reading this until Sunday evening. I am very much looking forward to it just the same -- and will hope to get in on the discussion as quickly as I can. Dottie Lady Croom: It is a defect of God's humour that he directs our hearts everywhere but to those who have a right to them. Act Two Scene Six, Arcadia, Tom Stoppard
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (8 of 30), Read 50 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Thursday, October 17, 2002 02:01 PM I'm a little more than 1/2 way thru. Will save comments until I finish. And welcome to you, Mary Ellen. We're delighted to have you join us. Ruth
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (9 of 30), Read 53 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Thursday, October 17, 2002 04:57 PM Me too, Ruth. I'm lagging behind on this one, but moving day is the end of next week and things will begin to ease up here soon. Beej
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (10 of 30), Read 43 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Thursday, October 17, 2002 09:29 PM Mary Ellen, Welcome. I enjoyed reading your comments. You are right about Hata never really fitting in. I have the feeling that later in life, people respected his money. Hata sees it as people accepting him. Maybe there is a little of both involved. Jane
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (11 of 30), Read 38 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, October 19, 2002 12:17 AM Very interesting book. Sherry remarked that it reminded her of Remains of the Day by Ishiguru. I’d forgotten about that remark until I found myself reminded of An Artist of the Floating World, also by Ishiguru. Franklin Hata could be described by the medical term “loss of affect.” This is an absence of emotional reaction. It occurs in the psychopathic personality, and in Alzheimer’s. (Hugging my mother was like hugging a post.) His was such a troubled past that I found it no wonder that he had encased himself in a block of ice. I liked this book a lot. One thing bothered me, though, and that was the flatness of the narration. I know it was flat because Franklin was flat. He never allowed himself the ups and downs of emotional reaction. But herein lies the question. How does one write a book about an emotional flatliner without having a flat book? By the same token, suppose I were to write a book about a boring man? Should I write a boring book? No way. Lee took a big chance in writing a book with a central character this tamped down. I think he succeeded for the most part. But not completely. Ruth
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (12 of 30), Read 30 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Saturday, October 19, 2002 04:24 PM Let me add my welcome to you, Mary Ellen. I hope you stay to read more with us. I really enjoyed your note. I finished this book this morning and am astonished at how much I liked it. This is not a subject that would naturally attract me without the lure of discussing it with all of you. Now, I want to read Native Speaker though I can't imagine where I'm going to squeeze it in. This is such a complex story interweaving multiple themes and yet Lee makes it all very accessible. This could have been so oblique in less skillful hands. And, any of these themes could have been the center of one book. The comfort women by themselves are an incredible piece of history. Ruth, that flat quality was what I was referring to in a note when I said not to get turned off by the slower quality in the first 50 to 100 pages. As Lee is introducing the character, all you hear about is the person that Hata has transformed himself into for the community. That person is necessarily a bit boring, at least to me. But, as the pieces of the facade start to fall off, you find out what has formed this person and it is just endlessly fascinating. How does a personality survive all that has happened to him and still function? By building up wall after wall of emotional protection, of course. Otherwise, it would all just be too much pain. I think even his adoption at such a late age would produce this kind of response, let alone everything else that happened. Did you wonder if he adopted Sunny to redeem K? That seemed to be taking a big chance for this isolated personality. And, that was a horrible scene when he went away to serve the commander and left her with those soldiers. I could barely survive reading it, let alone living through it. Barb
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (13 of 30), Read 31 times Conf: Reading List From: Sara Sauers stsauers@att.net Date: Saturday, October 19, 2002 05:49 PM I have to say that Lee's prose reminds me a lot of Ishuigaro's, too. I'm sure a lot of the similarity comes from the very reserved characters they choose to write about. Barb, I also wondered why Franklin would want to take on the highly emotional territory of raising a child. Trying to redeem the loss of K, as you suggested, makes the most sense to me. But this explanation makes it all the more puzzling to try and understand why Franklin was so insistent that Sunny have such a dangerous abortion -- and that he made himself a part of it, in a sense spilling even more blood. I'm not at all sure I buy Franklin's transition at the end, but I'll save that topic for later. Sara
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (14 of 30), Read 31 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, October 19, 2002 07:45 PM I'm sure, too, that Franklin's adoption of Sunny has to do with K. Remember how he insisted that the child be a girl? And what about her name? Sure didn't fit, did it? Ruth
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (15 of 30), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Anne Papale papcons@earthlink.net Date: Saturday, October 19, 2002 07:46 PM I read this book about a year ago. In addition to those topics mentioned, I was fascinated by the family that bought his medical supplies store, just when the competition was heating up. The father couldn't keep his anger at Hata in check. Hata seemed to know this, because something kept him going back to visit - guilt? It was just so human. Franklin Hata worked so hard to gain a certain stature in the community. But you got the feeling that there was a certain snickering at him that was going on. The title seems so right, in that a gesture can be both meaningful and empty at the same time. MAP
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (16 of 30), Read 31 times Conf: Reading List From: Theresa Simpson theresa.a.simpson@gte.net Date: Sunday, October 20, 2002 01:18 PM I read this book quite a while ago. It's interesting to re-visit through your comments here. Ruth, Sun-Hee is a girl's name in Korean = Sunny. But I'm sure Lee did choose it for a kind of bilingual effect. Theresa Life breaks in on philosophy like morning. Herman Melville
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (17 of 30), Read 31 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, October 20, 2002 02:50 PM Thanks, Theresa. I'm sure that's the logical explanation. Did it explain this someplace in the book that I missed? Or is this just another example of your wide knowledge of language and things intercultural? Ruth
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (18 of 30), Read 33 times Conf: Reading List From: Theresa Simpson theresa.a.simpson@gte.net Date: Sunday, October 20, 2002 04:15 PM I've met 2-3 Korean women named Sun-Hee, that's all. And my room-mate in the dorms my first year in college was from Korea (but not named Sunhee). Theresa Life breaks in on philosophy like morning. Herman Melville
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (19 of 30), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: Sara Sauers stsauers@att.net Date: Sunday, October 20, 2002 06:14 PM Did anyone else think this book hit fast, fast forward in the final few paragraphs? For a book in which most things were resolved very thoroughly, Franklin's group of sudden pronouncements at the end surprised me. And why would he be leaving town now that he's finally made a bit of a connection with Sunny and Thomas? "I'll have just enough to go away from here and live out modestly the rest of my unappointed days." Am I supposed to be celebrating for him? I just wanted to shake him! Have I misunderstood? Sara
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (20 of 30), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: Anne Wilfong anne.wilfong@gte.net Date: Sunday, October 20, 2002 06:57 PM I agree, Sara. I've been mulling over the ending at the expense of the rest of the book. He was full of philanthropy, but for his own cause. He's come to a good place with Sunny and Thomas. And he's just gonna leave? For a guy who seemed to let life just wash over him most of the time, he certainly made some fast decisions there. The other decision that seemed too hurried and poorly thought out was Sunny's late term abortion. I thought perhaps the baby would end up for adoption, and Sunny would sort of go full-circle with that issue. The pace of the book was so peaceful. Even the horrible events of the war and comfort house had a quiet touch to them. I can't say I've ever read anything so painful and intense while being lulled by the beauty of the prose. What do we know about Mr. Lee? Is English his first language? He certainly has a gift for it. Anne
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (21 of 30), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, October 20, 2002 07:16 PM Now that you two mention it, it was strange that he decided to fly the coop just when it looked like the ice was going to melt. Or maybe he's afraid to let the ice melt too much. Or he can't. Anne, I just googled it. He came to the US from Korea when he was 3. So I think we could count him as a Native Speaker. Ruth
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (22 of 30), Read 27 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, October 20, 2002 09:43 PM At one point, towards the end of the book, Franklin mentions that he seems to harm everything that he loved. This is after he finds out about the accident that kills the woman who owned his store. Maybe, this is why he is running from Sunny and Thomas. I am enjoying all of your comments. Jane
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (23 of 30), Read 21 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Monday, October 21, 2002 12:53 PM Thanks to all for the welcome. I am enjoying the discussion of this book very much--happy to be here! Jane, I agree that Franklin was leaving to avoid doing further damage to people he cared for, but I also wonder if he thought Sunny would be more likely to accept his help if he were not around. I also thought he was tired of his life, of maintaining the pleasant facade, of all the reminders of his past failures with Sunny and Mary, and even the failure of his medical supply store. I half expected to read that he was planning suicide. His permitting the fire in his home to get out of control was certainly self-destructive and I think there were a couple of references to flirting with suicide in his pool, too. With regard to the sale of his store--did anyone else wonder whether he had deliberately misled the buyers? At first, I took him at his word, that he did not know some of the hospitals would be taking their business elsewhere. But then his continued guilt made me wonder. As I read this book, I was mentally comparing it with "Artist of the Floating World," too. (Can't figure out how to italicize!) I wondered whether a Korean writer would be more harsh in his treatment of the character looking back on his participation in WWII than a writer of Japanese background, but I thought Lee was pretty compassionate. Mary Ellen
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (24 of 30), Read 14 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Monday, October 21, 2002 07:12 PM Welcome, Mary Ellen. I've really enjoyed your comments. I'm just coming off an 7-hour drive and I'm fuzzy around the edges, but I hope to have something else to say about AGL soon. Sherry
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (25 of 30), Read 13 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Anne Papale papcons@earthlink.net Date: Monday, October 21, 2002 07:58 PM Welcome, Mary Ellen. Yes, I picked up Hata's near suicidal tendencies too. That could be why his friends were so concerned about him. MAP
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (26 of 30), Read 13 times Conf: Reading List From: Sara Sauers stsauers@att.net Date: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 12:10 AM The suicide angle hadn't occurred to me. I don't think Franklin really felt enough to do more than toy with the idea, but I guess suppression can certainly fail miserably. To me the fire seemed more the result of obliviousness, or his self-termed 'forgetting' than a self-destructive event. Mary Ellen, you asked about Franklin's guilt and motives around the sale of his shop to the Hickeys. There wasn't much about the sale that seemed deceptive -- I tend to think he truly felt badly that the business he worked so hard to build failed. Though he did seem to hold the Hickey's responsible for not doing some things the way he did, the timing of the sale coincided with flight from neighborhood shopping in general. But! Sherry's (I think) original note mentioned "the unreliable narrator" with regard to this book. Perhaps I've fallen for this?? Sara
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (27 of 30), Read 13 times Conf: Reading List From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 12:45 AM I almost always fall for the unreliable narrator, Sara, especially since I'm not usually looking for it. However, it seems like they're hiding under half the book covers out there these days. Is this something new, or have I just been too naive and believing in the past? As for the suicidal tendencies, there were moments when I thought he was capable of it. However, the fire was strange -- almost like the proverbial cry for help, especially since he was talking to Liz and knew she was right outside when he let it happen. Lynn
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (28 of 30), Read 5 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 07:17 AM I thought that he was going to travel because he thought that Sunny would be much more willing to accept the gesture if he wasn't hanging about all of the time. However, the point that he felt that he destroyed everything he touched is a good one. Also, this is a man who has isolated himself from emotion for a very long time. Would it be realistic to suppose that he could open himself entirely to the kind of vulnerability that Sunny and Thomas represent? I don't think so. With that in mind, the ending seems more sensible than the one I would have preferred. Also, I thought the fire was self-destructive, that Hata toyed with the idea of finishing things throughout the book and I was greatly relieved when he didn't. Barb
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (29 of 30), Read 4 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 08:08 AM Sara, it wasn't me who mentioned the "unreliable narrator" possibility. I almost never think of that, and usually always take the narrator at face value, whether I should or not. Barb, I think he wanted to travel, too, and give Sunny and Thomas some breathing room. He realized he was controlling, and wanted Sunny to succeed on her own. I didn't get the idea that he was totally separating from them, but giving them a new start. This aspect of the book hasn't been mentioned before: what do you all think of the "ghost" of the comfort woman he loved (I can't remember her name right now)? Remember, she was the one who wanted to leave, even though he was very satisfied (supposedly) to stay where he was. Sherry
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (30 of 30), Read 4 times Conf: Reading List From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 08:59 AM That's a good point about the ghost of K, the comfort woman. (Why do you think he said he knew she WASN'T a ghost?) I couldn't decide if she had been "visiting" him over the years or if this was a one-time appearance triggered by his recent reflection on that period of his life. Anyway, the idea of travel is consistent with the plans the two of them had dreamed about during their talks back in the camp. Maybe he decided it was time to experience things he had anticipated as a young man but then missed by settling down. Lynn
Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 11:34 AM It seemed to me that he at least implied that the ghost had been coming on a regular basis, however if that was true, I find it strange that the author only mentioned it that one time. I think he knew she wasn't a ghost because he knew she was a figment of his brain. Ruth
Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 10:52 PM I just finished this book tonight and have really enjoyed reading all of your notes here. I was fascinated with the Korean/Japanese facets of this book. "Doc Hata" was ethnically a Korean who had been born in Japan. Traditionally, the Korean minority in Japan has been discriminated against, while the Japanese use of Korean "comfort women" was just one example of the terrible injustices the Japanese inflicted on the Koreans when they occupied their country. Right now I have a Korean Japanese student in one of my classes who is having an identity crisis over whether he is really Korean or Japanese - in spite of the fact that he was born in Japan and doesn't speak any Korean. This makes it easier for me to imagine the kind of internal conflicts a man like Hata would experience. Throughout the book he expresses a very strong desire for social acceptance and I think this is rooted in his initial status as an outsider who was adopted into the dominant culture. Once he comes to the United States, he doesn't want to make any waves. He just wants to blend in and be accepted as a member of the community. I think that is one reason why he is afraid to take any emotional risks, either with his daughter or with Mary. I agree that Hata seems emotionally flat at the beginning of the book, but I think that is because he has lived so much of his life on the surface, afraid to feel again after the horrible experience with K. As the book continues, I think he understands more about himself and is finally ready to acknowledge at least some of the difficult truths about his life. And there are definitely some surprises here about about our increasingly reliable narrator, aside from the horrors he witnessed and participated in during the Second World War. We learn for example, that he was very disappointed in his daughter when he realized that she was racially mixed, which goes a long way towards explaining their alienation. We also see him spying on his daughter having sex, and then we see him participate in what seems to have been very close to an infanticide. His insistence on the abortion was, I think, precipitated by the shame attached to the pregnancy, which was compounded by the fact that the father was black. I didn't find it so strange that Hata wanted to leave town at the end. His real name, Kurohata means "black flag" we are told, and towards the end he makes many references to the fact that he thinks that he brings bad luck to everyone he cares for. He is himself a kind of black flag of death. K. (surely one of the most heart breaking heroines in contemporary fiction) reappears to him as an old man and tells him, "I do hope we might move on from this place...I cannot die here. And sometimes, sir, I do so wish to." Perhaps if he leaves his house, the memory of K. will recede and he can experience some respite from his horrible memories. Well, if I haven't made it clear by now, I really, really liked this book. Ann
Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2002 07:50 AM Ann, I loved the book too, and your thorough, well-thought-out post really helps me understand why. Wasn't that abortion scene hard to take? I think Hata's re-telling of it was one way of looking at his past square-on and facing up to his part of the problem that existed between the two of them. Did anyone remember at the very beginning of the book, Sunny is reading Carver's "The Swimmer"? I love it when I come upon some nugget in a book, and because I've read what it is they're talking about, I feel like I'm an insider in the story. I had forgotten about this, until Tonya mentioned it to me yesterday. Sherry
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2002 07:57 AM Ann, I had read something recently that gave me some insight into that Korean/Japanese relationship and now I can't remember what it was (the slipping memory thing). However, it would seem to be a major factor in this outsider theme. Also, it contributes understanding to the fact that the comfort women were Korean, not Japanese. Is this traditionally low regard for Koreans by Japanese part of your student's difficulty? The late-term abortion was the second most horrifying scene in the book to me (after K's end). Lee never specifies how far along Sunny was but it sounds like she was significantly pregnant (I suppose that's a relative term). Hata's major motivation for pursuing it with her seemed to be the opinion of others. It seems to me like the ultimate low-point in his life. Really enjoyed your note, by the way. Barb
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (35 of 35), Read 5 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2002 11:09 AM Sherry, to pick a nit, it's it's Cheever's Swimmer. And wasn't there a reference to another book or author, too? Since someone did mention unreliable narrator, this idea has been bumbling around in my head. How much of what Hata says can we believe? He wants so badly to be looked well upon he may be guilty of at least shading the truth if not outright lying, especially in his story of the war. Ruth
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (36 of 65), Read 40 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2002 03:25 PM Thanks, Ruth. I've read two big books of short stories by both Cheever and Carver. I often confuse them in my mind. Their names even sound alike. I'm not sure what the point of having an unreliable narrator would be in this. I have to admit to taking most narrators at face value. If by "unreliable" you mean "fallible", I guess I agree. But somehow when the word "unreliable" is used, I equate it with "lying". I suppose I shouldn't be that rigid with my definition of the word. Sherry
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (37 of 65), Read 42 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2002 03:30 PM I think an unreliable is just that--unreliable. Sometimes outright lying, but not always. I meant that Hata seemed so unable to face his real feelings that he may have been covering up almost unconsciously -- rewriting his own history so that he could better face it. We all do a bit of that, but in Hata's case it might have been a bit more extreme--more of a true psychological sublimation. (Is that the right word?) Ruth
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (38 of 65), Read 40 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2002 10:50 PM Barb, I think the low status of Koreans in Japanese society is definitely a part of my student's identity problem, although here in the United States the Korean and Japanese students seem to mix well enough. Ruth, at first I also wondered how much I should trust Hata's narration, but as the book progresses he forces himself to face some very hard truths and the narration becomes much more revealing. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean. He falls in love with K's beauty and ends up having sex with her. K kills Captain Ono, but does not attack Hata. And if I believed then that she did not do so because she valued me or hoped to be saved by me, I realized now that it was neither of those things. Not at all. She had not hurt me for the same reason that she had given over her body some hours before, not for passion or love, or mercy or humanity, but their complete absence and abasement, such that there were not wrongs remaining, no more crimes, nothing to save herself from. Looking back on his "love" making, Hata seems to acknowledge that it was tantamount to rape. Given his feelings for K, this must have been very difficult. I think he also becomes willing to admit his own responsibility for the alienation between him and his daughter Sunny. The reasons for her unremitting hostility are somewhat of a mystery to the reader and I think to Hata until he admits that he was disappointed by her wavy hair and dark skin. ...it was obvious how some other color (or colors) ran deep within her. And perhaps it was right from that moment, the very start, that the young girl sensed my hesitance, the blighted hope in my eyes. In adopting Sunny, a Korean orphan, he must have somehow wanted to make up for failing to protect the beautiful K, but Sunny was nothing like her. His description of his role in the abortion performed on a daughter who was "quite near full-term" is also brutally honest. For me, an "unreliable narrator" is one who lacks insight into his own motives and behavior. In the end, I think Hata faces up to his failures, which is what makes him such an interesting character. Hata is a damaged individual, a man of unfulfilled potential, but a basically decent human being. I cannot help wondering what he might have been like if there had been no war. I seem him as a happy family man somewhere in Japan, working as a real doctor.
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (39 of 65), Read 41 times Conf: Reading List From: Edward Houghton eddh@pacbell.net Date: Thursday, October 24, 2002 02:37 AM My feeling is that unreliable narrators have to be on the crazy side. It would be overly dishonest for the author to lie; why would he write a book only to tell a lie. But if the narrator is nuts, then anything is possible, and reasonable from the reader's view. We read one last year (can't remember the name, but the author also wrote REMAINS OF THE DAY, I think.) The most surreal unreliable narrator was probably the Sheen character in the movie, APOCALYPSE NOW. At least in my opinion. EDD
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (40 of 65), Read 44 times Conf: Reading List From: Edward Houghton eddh@pacbell.net Date: Thursday, October 24, 2002 02:52 AM The reason that Koreans are poorly tolerated by the Japanese is simple racial bias; and the Koreans were a conquered people treated as non-humans and subject to their conqueror's whims. I doubt if there is another country on Earth that has treated conquered nations with the tolerance of Americans. EDD
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (41 of 65), Read 43 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Thursday, October 24, 2002 12:53 PM Edd, Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans is the book with the mentally unbalanced narrator. Ishiguro seems to specialize in narrators who, at the minimum, are not honest with themselves. I also read his An Artist of the Floating World, which has a narrator who prefers to see his past through rose colored glasses. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 through 1945. The Koreans couldn't even use their language in their own schools in their own country. The Japanese imperialist record in Asia is appalling. I do think the Japanese people are one group that has demonstrated a strong ability learn from their past mistakes, however. It's not fair to judge the Japanese today based on their grandparents' behavior.
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (42 of 65), Read 46 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Thursday, October 24, 2002 01:40 PM Hata certainly became more honest about his past as the book went on. (I had a sense that he was reviewing his life one layer at a time.) But his narration was so calm, deliberate and unemotional that I often felt as though it were dishonest, although "dishonest" is probably the wrong word. I just felt that if he were facing these events head-on, he wouldn't be able to present them so evenly (which may say more about me than it does about Hata!). Ann, I wonder if he would have been a happy family man even if the war had not intervened. Would he have overcome the emotional distance he maintained in all his relationships? Since his happiest relationship is with his grandson, perhaps having his own children would have helped him learn to be happy. Speaking of the war, I was intrigued by the character of the commanding officer, whose name I've forgotten. I thought the doctor (Ono?) was almost a stereotype, with his arbitrary cruelty. But the commanding officer seemed more complex: dependent on narcotics (for pain? or just addicted?), to the extent of becoming a negligible presence, yet he committed ritual suicide when he learned that the Emperor had surrendered. An interesting minor character; I wonder why Lee drew him this way. Mary Ellen
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (43 of 65), Read 31 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Anne Papale papcons@earthlink.net Date: Saturday, October 26, 2002 08:54 PM I forgot about the reference to The Swimmer. Isn't that about a guy who dives into a pool and comes out on the other side in a different life? Hmmm... That reminds me that there did seem to be a certain amount of information about Hata that the reader just doesn't know. For example, how exactly did someone who fought for the Japanese in WWII manage to get to the US and set up a respectable life for himself not long afterward? MAP
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (44 of 65), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Saturday, October 26, 2002 10:57 PM Good question, MAP. I wondered about that too. Ann
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (45 of 65), Read 30 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Saturday, October 26, 2002 11:08 PM What did you think of K's plea to Hata that he kill her and Hata's refusal to comply? In its horror, this reminded me of the scene in Sophie's Choice when the sadistic Nazi at the death camp tells Sophie to choose whether her son or her daughter would live. It was impossible to make a correct choice. Ann
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (46 of 65), Read 30 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, October 27, 2002 06:51 AM I think that was the defining decision of his life, Ann. She knew she would die horribly and asked him to speed things up. He just couldn't do it. I'm sure this paralysis, combined with his need to do what his superiors would approve of marked his entire life. I wonder if this inability to make the hard choice was what prevented him from ever becoming a real doctor. And I wondered about how he turned up in the U.S., too. But I'm not bothered by why it wasn't explained. Sometimes too much explanation adds unnecessary bulk to a book. This mystery fits in with his natural reticence. Sherry
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (47 of 65), Read 26 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Sunday, October 27, 2002 11:30 AM Well, as much as I have loved this book up to this point -- I'm into Chapter 13 -- I don't think I will manage to finish it. I've hit the first reference to the abortion and from re-reading the thread, I am making an assumption that there is a more graphic description of this ahead -- I just cannot do that. You all have certainly presented a marvelous discussion. I will simply say that I have seen some wonderful points made and ideas and theories broached about Hata and his life -- many fit well. I do believe the book is deserving of the acclaim it seems to have attained. As I say -- I've enjoyed what I've read of it -- but I'm bailing. Dottie "...;if you walk a singular path, you carry always a certain grief, and one does not mourn in public." Truman Capote, about Garbo, in 'New York'(1946), in The Dogs Bark
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (48 of 65), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Sunday, October 27, 2002 11:57 AM Dottie, The abortion itself is never described, only the events leading up to it and Hata's guilt afterwards. The actual abortion is left to the reader's imagination; I can understand your reluctance to go there. Ann
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (49 of 65), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Sunday, October 27, 2002 11:59 AM Sherry, I agree that Hata's refusal to kill K was the defining moment of his life. In retrospect, he must have wished over and over again that he had killed her and spared her the terrible suffering of her death. At the same time, I think that his inability to pull the trigger was natural. Mary Ellen, a few notes earlier you mentioned Hata's very good relationship with his grandson. Why do you suppose his relationship with the boy was so much more successful than his relationship with his adopted daughter? Ann
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (50 of 65), Read 31 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Sunday, October 27, 2002 01:14 PM Ann -- I may finish this at some later time. I just don't think I can even handle references right now though. In fact, I came back here to say that this reluctance was in no way an indication of opposition to the hot-button topic of late-term abortion. While I have such horrible mixed emotions concerning it, I have been and will continue to be a supporter of its allowance. I won't and don't argue the topic -- I just do what I must -- and sometimes what I must do is in direct opposition to my own feelings. No one said life gave simple choices. Thanks for your response on this! Dottie "...;if you walk a singular path, you carry always a certain grief, and one does not mourn in public." Truman Capote, about Garbo, in 'New York'(1946), in The Dogs Bark
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (51 of 65), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, October 27, 2002 09:46 PM I always believe the narrator as well. But the cover of the book says "..almost from the first chapter,...we can't trust Hata's version of events." If I hadn't read that before I started the book, I wouldn't have doubted a word that Hata said. I was thinking that perhaps Hata was able to enter the USA, because he changed his name to Franklin Hata from Kurohata. I also have an interesting encounter to relate to you. I have a friend who is Japanese and who was born in a concentration camp here in Wyoming. One time we went out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant. The waitress, who was Asian, walked up to the table and said to my friend, "What are you?" My friend thought that she was extremely rude, and my friend said that it was typical behavior for Koreans. The waitress was Korean as it turned out. Jane
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (52 of 65), Read 25 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Monday, October 28, 2002 02:59 AM Being rather unsettled due to the wild wind and rain here last evening, I kept thinking about this book and how near the end I was leaving it and finally sat down and step-by-step worked my way to the end after all. I am glad I did. Though a couple of small sections were difficult, it was in these final few chapters that Hata finally became more than a shadow for me. I found his stance concerning the sale of the house and the other arrangements he made for the benefit of Sunny and Thomas and even his plans -- open and loose and vague as they were to be significantly an improvement for Hata. He was finally in the present, the weight of the "should" was lifting -- the ghosts of his long, repressive and distancing past were being put in the past -- even the travels which he had talked of with K seemed in his mind to not be contemplated solely for the sake of K but more for his own sense of desire to do those things and to do something for himself unrelated to expectations of others. Just as someone -- I think it was Mary Ellen -- said -- the hope of that ending was a welcome resolution. It's vague, and yet even with Hata's tendencies well documented from the start -- the reader is led to think some corner has truly been turned. As for unreliable narrators -- I tend to believe there are only unreliable narrators. And if two people who live through the same event side-by-side tell the story afterward -- it is obvious that they were in totally different places as they experienced the event -- the differences are in how each person interpreted what they experienced. So when an author relates a story -- he is bringing to it his own idea of what he writes really "means" for the character he is inventing and the story he is relating -- which will then filter through our own outlooks on the subject matter and the events and the actions of the characters. I just brought my own set of filters to this book in such a way that I nearly didn't finish reading it. If I had indeed simply purchased or borrowed this book and read it on my own -- I might well have stopped at that first mention of that abortion and that would have been that -- an unfinished book. But with the knowledge Ann relayed -- and the prodding of needing to focus on something other than the wind -- the impetus to finish won out. Fortunately. Dottie "...;if you walk a singular path, you carry always a certain grief, and one does not mourn in public." Truman Capote, about Garbo, in 'New York'(1946), in The Dogs Bark
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (53 of 65), Read 24 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, October 28, 2002 09:30 AM Dottie, I'm glad you finished the book because you were so close to the end and the last chapters do give the reader some sense of resolution. Jane, I try not to read introductions until after I finish a book, but it's pretty hard to ignore the book jackets. I'm too susceptible to suggestion, and once a reviewer puts an idea in my head, it's hard to see things differently. So, what did you think, when your friend made that statement about Koreans? I've been out to eat with Chinese friends when the waitress asked about their background, but the conversation wasn't in English so I couldn't understand what was going on, and they weren't offended. As you know, I lived in Japan for a couple of years and I teach ESL to a lot of Japanese and Korean students. I like both groups a lot, but, in general, I think the Koreans tend to be more outgoing than the Japanese.(On the other hand, I expressed that opinion to some Koreans in one class, and they looked at me like I was crazy.)In both cultures, politely getting along with the group (like Hata in the book) is very important. Apologizing is also very important. I was amazed at first when a Korean or Japanese student apologized on the class evaluation for not studying harder, but now I'm used to it. I think an American student would just hope the teacher hadn't noticed. Ann
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (54 of 65), Read 25 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Monday, October 28, 2002 11:00 AM I learned when teaching never to ask Asian students if they understood something I had just explained. They would always say yes, because not to do so would mean insulting the teacher. So I would ask, "Do you want me to explain it again?" "Yes!" Ruth
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (55 of 65), Read 24 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Monday, October 28, 2002 11:10 AM That's really interesting, Ruth. It's amazing how important little semantic differences are culturally. Sherry
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (56 of 65), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Monday, October 28, 2002 12:29 PM Ann-- That's a good question: why did Franklin respond so differently to his grandson? I wonder if it didn't have to do with expectations. When he first saw Sunny, he saw her through his expectations of her (or of the ideal little girl he hoped she'd be), and she was a disappointment. (And she knew she was a disappointment, and that colored all her responses to him in the future.) He didn't have the same expectations for his grandson, and perhaps that allowed him to respond more spontaneously and affectionately, to simply delight in the child. Or maybe he just learned from his mistakes. Dottie--Glad you were able to finish the book, and grateful for your comments.
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (57 of 65), Read 19 times Conf: Reading List From: Sara Sauers stsauers@att.net Date: Monday, October 28, 2002 08:22 PM I know this is a bit of a digression, but I've found all the different takes here on the 'unreliable narrator' very interesting --not just to think about in this book, but overall. I think this is a relatively new term, but I certainly could be mistaken. It's easier for me to see/get this in movies, such as with Edd's example of Martin Sheen in APOCALYPSE NOW. I also thought of MEMENTO -- a movie that I worked hard to follow all along, but that I ultimately saw as quite disappointing because of the unreliability exposed at the end. I felt duped. There was no pay off for following closely. (Do I sound like Franzen on Gaddis, or what!) I know it's fiction, and it's even silly to say this, but I want a certain confidence in my narrator! Sara
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (58 of 65), Read 20 times Conf: Reading List From: Sara Sauers stsauers@att.net Date: Monday, October 28, 2002 08:32 PM Ann & Mary Ellen, It's also true that Franklin hadn't had much time with Thomas by the end of the novel. No more than I few weeks or months, if I remember correctly. In other words: There's still plenty of time to mess up the relationship! Also, Thomas is so much younger when Franklin meets him than Sunny is when she is adopted. I don't have a lot of experience, but it's almost always easier for me to feel comfortable with a toddler than humans of any other age. Sara
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (59 of 65), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Tuesday, October 29, 2002 08:08 AM Mary Ellen -- I was glad I managed to finish this also -- and I learned something from the battle to so so. Not finishing a book really bothers me at some very deep level and until this book I was not aware of how much it really bothered me to put a book aside and not finish it. I can only recall one that I did not finish at all -- Gogol's Dead Souls and it is still on the shelf accusing me of something terrible. Which speaks volumes about the two recent books which I have squirreled away completely out of my sight -- I knew I had to hide them or suffer. Sara -- I thoroughly enjoyed your digression. And, yeah, toddlers are easy -- aren't they? I rather enjoy them myself when I have the opportunity. All -- I have been thinking about the title -- wondering if it isn't not only about Hata's view of his own history but also about life generally? Life lived within the confines of whatever society one is living. The "appearance" and the "reality". And then I thought of the comment earlier -- MAP? -- about the gesture which can be either meaningful or empty. And think of Hata's difficulty with Sunny relative to his inexperience of the same type of relationship with his own adoptive parents -- the shift in culture as well as the shift resulting from the war and the memories of individuals such as Hata and the collective memory of the cultures. Overlay that with the usual human path -- the adolescent turning from a parent and striking out to do it themselves -- sunny was not long under her "father's" guidance before the normal adolescent turning away reared its head. Plus she was learning and had learned perhaps more rapidly than he to assimilate the new culture -- which widened the normal gulf between father and daughter. Okay -- just thinking out loud there -- but that's some of what has been wandering through my mind since finishing this. Dottie "...;if you walk a singular path, you carry always a certain grief, and one does not mourn in public." Truman Capote, about Garbo, in 'New York'(1946), in The Dogs Bark
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (60 of 65), Read 20 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Tuesday, October 29, 2002 04:06 PM Sara and Dottie, Good points about relevance of the age difference between Thomas and Sunny. I think the fact that Thomas was a boy also had something to do with the closer relationship. Throughout the book I thought it was very strange that a single man would insist on adopting a girl. I half expected some sexual abuse in the picture, but I don't believe that happened. Sara, I found Memento very interesting, but I couldn't lose myself in the characters because I was too confused most of the time. I thought it was a very intriguing experiment. Shortly after I saw it, I found a really good time line and analysis by some Chinese guy on the web. His English was excellent, although not quite on a par with native speakers. I've looked for that since, but it seems to have disappeared in cyber space. Yes, it does seem that this whole idea of an untrustworthy narrator is a modern invention. Ann
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (61 of 65), Read 16 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Tuesday, October 29, 2002 07:17 PM I finally managed to finish this during evening stays in various hotels as I travelled down the eastern seaboard this past week. I don't think this was an example of an 'unreliable narrator' at all. I think Hata strove for the gesture life, as explained by Captain Ono: (p.266; To Hata): 'There is a germ of infirmity in you, which infects everything you touch or attempt. Besides all else, how do you think you will ever become a surgeon? A surgeon determines his course and acts. He goes to the point he has determined without any other faith, and commits to an execution. You, Lieutenant, too much depend upon generous fate and gesture. There is no internal possession, no embodiment. Thus you fail in some measure always. You disappoint someone like me.' As far as I can figure, what Ono is saying is that Kata has no spirit nor elan. He is a passionless man who can function only when fate runs like a smooth river. To me, a gesture life is a passionless life, one that has no waves; it's a reflection of life. And, too, I'm convinced K WAS pregnant; when Hata sucked her breast, there was a liquid..in fact he almost gagged on it. I knew she was pregnant then, long before Captain Ono told Hata that K was pregnant. I think this played a big part in why Hata adopted a child. Sunny replaced that unborn baby of K's. I skimmed over the previous posts here, and if all this was already said, please excuse. Beej
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (62 of 65), Read 23 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Tuesday, October 29, 2002 07:31 PM Beej -- totally new -- and I do agree K was pregnant and the clue was certainly given in that scene you mention. In fact that was one of the "difficult" spots I had in finishing the book -- the description of K's death and Hata when he was at the scene. Is it possible this was Hata's child? I didn't pay close attention to the timespan there. That thought just entered my mind. It would put a whole new layer of complication to this story though there are plenty without that. And glad to see you -- hope you will be back to full steam here soon. Dottie "...;if you walk a singular path, you carry always a certain grief, and one does not mourn in public." Truman Capote, about Garbo, in 'New York'(1946), in The Dogs Bark
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (63 of 65), Read 17 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Tuesday, October 29, 2002 08:10 PM Thanks, Dottie! I don't know about full steam, tho. That might be awhile. I'm surrounded by about 20,000 boxes that need unpacked and my new home looks like a Walmart warehouse! I hate clutter of any kind and this house is like something out of my worst nightmare right now, so any steam I have left at this point is going to be focused on getting rid of this total mess, here! Okay, back to the book..My impression was that she was already pregnant before she and Hata made love. I'm very impressed with the intricacy in this book. There's a strong tie not only between Sunny and K. but also between Sunny's abortion and K's death while pregnant (and the resulting death of the baby, if K was, indeed, pregnant. Both pregnancies complicated Hata's life and I really don't think he considered the mamas to be, in either case. It seems to me, the only time Hata could act with force and determination was when his gesture life was threatened. Sunny's first pregnancy absolutely further stirred the stilled waters. Beej
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (64 of 65), Read 7 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 06:56 AM Beej, good to have you posting again after your brief hiatus, even if you do have 20,000 boxes to unpack. Your observations are astute. I don't think he was unreliable either, no matter what the book jacket said. He may not have told everything, there are gaps in his story, but what he did tell was so devastating it seems hard to believe he would have made it up. I think he was unaware of many things -- like the reasons behind why he rejected the lovely woman neighbor. But no one is totally aware of all of his inner workings. Sherry
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (65 of 65), Read 13 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 08:05 AM Thanks for the welcome back, Sherry! I'm down to about 19,950 boxes now and going strong! I'm working on the challenge of fitting furniture from a four bedroom colonial into a three bedroom contemporary but that's working out, too. In fact I've been shoving furniture around since 6:30 this morning and it's falling into place now! Well, sorta.. This relationship between Hata and his neighbor is really interesting. I keep going back to Captain Ono's little soliloquy and particularly the word 'infirmity.' To me that implies an inability for mobility, emotional mobility in this case, due to illness. When I look at it that way, I can see how Hata really WAS infirm and just not capable of exerting the emotional mobility, so to speak, to fight for this relationship. Hata had the passion of a wet dishrag. Hell would freeze over before I'd ever see my daughter strip tease for some lowlife scum buckets and simply walk away!!! Those guys would wish they'd never laid eyes on my kid by the time I was done with them, and I'd be dragging her home by her hair, if need be. The only time we saw any determination or passion in this man was when he arranged for Sunny's abortion, and I really think there's a lot to explore as to his true motive there. Beej
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (66 of 86), Read 50 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 12:48 PM Beej, Hata's walking away from the strip-tease scene was (yet another!) very disturbing moment. The thought of Sunny being sexually active seemed to disgust him, yet he did nothing here. This brings to mind a remark of Sunny's, to the effect that Hata acted as if he were beholden to her (or something to that effect). If he had adopted her out of guilt (later exacerbated by his guilt over his initial reaction on seeing her), maybe he felt he did not have the right to give her orders. Then again, maybe this is just another illustration of his extraordinary passivity. Mary Ellen
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (67 of 86), Read 55 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 01:02 PM Beej and Mary Ellen -- That scene also disturbed me -- but I am thinking -- time/setting -- when was this taking place? -- the rebellious drugs/sex years of the 60's/70's? And considering what had happened with the comfort women and with K in particular perhaps he simply had too much confusion of the two situations in his mind when confronted with Sunny's actions. But I believe the comment about his actions being as though he were beholden to her were made by Mary -- I want to say in her final conversation with him but I don't really think it was -- probably earlier. Dottie "...;if you walk a singular path, you carry always a certain grief, and one does not mourn in public." Truman Capote, about Garbo, in 'New York'(1946), in The Dogs Bark
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (68 of 86), Read 55 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 01:26 PM Sherry, I think your note lays to rest the issue of the so-called "unreliable" narrator in this book. I agree completely with what you wrote (so we must be right, of course :). Thanks for expressing it so well. Beej, I thoroughly enjoyed your comments. However, I am somewhat more sympathetic to Hata than you are. I do remember one time when he took a stand. It was after K. killed the captain. He shot the corpse and tried to pass it off as an accident. In that case he was not passive, and in fact behaved in a risky way. I tend to think of him as damaged by his wartime experiences. I agree that once he came to the States, his life reflected primarily a desire to fit in and not make waves. The fact that he and Sunny seemed to be the only Asians in town surely enhanced his feeling of being an outsider - hence his emphasis on correct appearances. (Sunny knew just how to most wound him, didn't she?) Interesting point about K's "pregnancy." Do you suppose that she could have recently had a baby? Wouldn't that better explain the breast secretions coupled with no other physical signs of pregnancy? Ann
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (69 of 86), Read 56 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 01:31 PM Ann -- I read the scene where Hata is gathering up remains at the scene where K was killed and he found or at least there is mention of a baby -- not yet a baby -- but with the obvious form -- tiny fingers and so on -- I thought that he had found in her remains the fetus. That was a really hard part for me to get through -- it wasn't the abortion but yet later that discovery in that clearing must have been in his mind as he insisted upon the abortion going forward. And I find I have a great deal of sympathy for Hata also. Dottie "...;if you walk a singular path, you carry always a certain grief, and one does not mourn in public." Truman Capote, about Garbo, in 'New York'(1946), in The Dogs Bark
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (70 of 86), Read 57 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 01:06 PM Mary Ellen, that's a really good, really important point you make about Hata's feelings of guilt. Guilt was a big part of Hata's life; he felt guilty over Sunny, guilty over K., guilty over not visiting the little Hickey boy in the hospital, guilty over the Hickey's failure in running the medical supply store. I wonder if he thought acknowledging his feelings of guilt excused his passivity? As for that business about his reaction to Sunny's sexuality..I think Hata had tremendous difficulty dealing with women's sexuality as a whole. I'd even go so far as to consider women's sexuality as Hata's biggest threat to leading a gesture life. That may also be one reason he could relate so well to his grandson where he could not with his daughter. Beej
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (71 of 86), Read 56 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 01:12 PM Dottie, I think you're right; I think he very well might have had the two situations intertwined in his heart. And I think this man felt completely helpless when, as I said earlier, confronted with any woman's sexuality..probably rooted in his experiences with K. and the comfort women. Beej
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (72 of 86), Read 54 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 01:33 PM Ann, you know what? I think you're right..I think she had already given birth! Actually, I am sympathetic toward Hata. Sympathetic but exasperated, too. Beej
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (73 of 86), Read 52 times Conf: Reading List From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 01:40 PM I agree with Dottie's interpretation -- that Hata found a tiny fetus among K's remains in the clearing. That seemed pretty clear to me. And I also agree that that was a difficult part to read, even though there were no gory details to speak of... just the implication of what had happened was hard enough to handle. Lynn
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (74 of 86), Read 52 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 02:55 PM Dottie and Lynn, Yes, you are absolutely right. I went back and read that part at the very end of chapter 14. I must be really dense because I remember reading that paragraph a couple of times, trying to make sense of it. It only makes sense to me now that Dottie has explained it. And, of course, that makes the tie in between Sunny and K and the lost babies so much stronger. If Sunny was in fact Hata's attempt to redeem himself for his role in K's death, he failed again miserably. Ah, gosh, Beej. I am reminded of that line in Tammy Wynette's old song "Stand by Your Man" to the effect that you have to love and forgive a guy because after all "he's just a man." There are limitations. I am not surprised by his inability to understand women, any more than I am surprised by my own inability to figure out men. Ann
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (75 of 86), Read 44 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 05:16 PM I don't know where my brain is these days..yes, that perfect elfin form. I was so wrapped up in K.'s slaughter and the brutality of that, the condition of the men when Hata passed them coming back to camp, and Hata's numbness when he found K, that the horridness of it all was almost too much to comprehend. Beej
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (76 of 86), Read 34 times Conf: Reading List From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Friday, November 01, 2002 11:10 AM This is another great discussion. I just finished A GESTURE LIFE and I’m really impressed with it. Some thoughts: The sale of Doc Hata’s house at the end worked symbolically for me in that he was no longer going to inhabit his edifice of respectability. His next phase was planned to be less protected and hopefully he would become more directly involved and emotionally available with those around him. I thought there was great potential for his relationships with Sunny and Thomas to blossom. I have a gay friend who was adopted and while growing up he felt that the match with his adoptive parents was a horrific cosmic blunder. He was never able to relinquish his love to them and after many battles ran away from home when he was fifteen and was estranged from his parents for most of his life. However, when his elderly widowed mother became ill he moved back into the same house and took care of her for several years and then moved her into a nursing home and visited daily until she passed away. Only recently, a decade after her death, has he articulated to me the value of his upbringing and how decent his parents were. Sunny was estranged by Hata’s emotional limitations, and also by her own, as she had been an abandoned child, but someday, surely, she will realize the value in her relationship with her adoptive father. The story hints at this eventuality. Sophie’s Choice came to my mind, too, when Hata was faced with K’s request to kill her. After K’s horrible end Hata must have rejected the Japanese culture on some deep level and emotionally he then identified with his Korean heritage and with K. The Japanese were now the enemy. Eventually he left Japan altogether and assimilated as completely as possible with Japan’s enemy, the United States. Perhaps this was not even conscious and he certainly maintained publicly that he was Japanese, but his absolute need to be embraced by the American culture, to conquer by cooperation, and become the model citizen of Bedley Run was a relinquishing of his Japanese identity. Robt
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (77 of 86), Read 38 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Friday, November 01, 2002 12:00 PM Very perceptive comments, Robt. I like your idea about the house. And your explanation of why Hata wanted to fit in so badly makes perfect sense. On grandchildren relationships: Your children are your responsibility. Your grandchildren ultimately are not. If they turn out to be ax murderers it's gonna be their parents' fault, not yours. So you can relax a little. I had a sudden Dickensian moment with the name Mary Burns. Does she? Ruth
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (78 of 86), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Friday, November 01, 2002 02:25 PM Robt, I really enjoyed your comments. I especially enjoyed the story about your friend. I think you are correct to point out that Sunny was also to blame for the bad relationship with her adoptive father. Wasn't she about 7 when he adopted her? Those early years are critical and her early abandonment must have made her very leery of forming new attachments. I also liked your theory that Hata moved to the U.S. to escape from his Japanese identity. Ann
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (79 of 86), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Friday, November 01, 2002 03:12 PM Great post, Robt. I had that feeling about the house, too, but I couldn't articulate it. Thanks for putting it into such clear focus. I know Sunny was not a small child when she was adopted, but somewhere the number 11 sticks in my mind. Could she have been that old? Sherry
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (80 of 86), Read 33 times Conf: Reading List From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Friday, November 01, 2002 04:03 PM Eleven was the age I had in mind, too, Sherry. However, the book is at home and I'm at work, so I can't check it out right now. Lynn
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (81 of 86), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Friday, November 01, 2002 08:57 PM Robert, you made some great points. The house intrigued me; it seemed to be another character and I knew there was a reason for that, but hadn't been able to collect my thoughts enough to figure it out. Maybe the fire meant something, too. What about the pool? At times it seemed Hata was trying to return to the womb but didn't he also think of drowning himself, too? Sort of like the beginning and the end, all in one. The water served as a rebirth (baptism?) at times but brought thoughts of death, too, depending on his state of mind. I hadn't really given much thought as to the whys of his moving to the USA and your observations were very insightful. Thanks! Beej
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (82 of 86), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Saturday, November 02, 2002 12:38 AM Aha, the fire! Fire and water and Mary Burns. Am I onto something or am I losing my mind? Ruth
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (83 of 86), Read 23 times Conf: Reading List From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Saturday, November 02, 2002 01:23 PM Thank you Ruth, Ann, Sherry and Beej! Some more thoughts: The real tip off that Doc Hata was living a gesture of a normal life in Bedley Run rather than an actual normal life was the way he handled Sunny’s late term abortion. I thought that his iron clad resolve revealed that his primary concern was not for Sunny but rather for himself. The prospect of an illegitimate child threatened his standing and carefully cultivated image in the community which had become an all important protection, a necessity for his emotional survival to the point that he would physically assist in the killing of his nearly fully developed grandchild. The history of K allowed me to remain sympathetic to Doc Hata (now his name carrying a more sinister aspect) because a lesser man might not have survived such an ordeal at all. His gestures were then actual mechanisms of survival. I found the overall arc of the novel to be the healing of a wound. Robt
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (84 of 86), Read 23 times Conf: Reading List From: Sara Sauers stsauers@att.net Date: Saturday, November 02, 2002 08:11 PM Robert, I very much like your thought on the arc of this book being "the healing of a wound." This was certainly a long recovery. Perhaps including the circumstances of the late-term abortion is one way Lee lets us know how far removed from his own life Hata is -- to go to such extremes for a neighborhood reputation. The resumed discussion of Mary Burns (Ruth, I'm sure there's something to your line of thought!) and the pool has taken me back the Cheever story that's mentioned, "The Swimmer." While he's swimming pool-to-pool, the character in that short story is living an imaginary life. He too is removed from the reality of the family life he has apparently ruined. When he finally gets home, there is no family there and the house is in disrepair. So, is the Cheever story in AGL because it is another instance of a character 'removing' himself from his own reality/life due to pain? "The Swimmer" is such a thoroughly American story, too. Shattered American dream. I don't know exactly where I'm going here... Sara
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (85 of 86), Read 26 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Sunday, November 03, 2002 01:51 AM Robt -- great thoughts on this. I especially liked the connection you made between the house and the attempt at a new approach to his life. And I echo Sara's appreciation of the arc of the story being the healing of a wound. While it is, as you say, Sara, a long recovery -- recovery in this sense takes an entire lifetime. It is a process which must be continuous -- otherwise the person -- "we" -- slip back into the pattern which we first used to escape the past event/s with which we are dealing. In Hata's case -- K's death, her unborn child and the war. I also liked the comparison you draw between the book and the story "The Swimmer". I am thinking it would be good to go back and read that one again but is it in our book or was it off the web somewhere? I had some vague thought that the swimmer in that story was actually the person who was gone -- that he had died and what remained of his family had moved away -- but I may have yet another tale confused with this. Did anyone go back and scan to see if there was indeed another book mentioned within Lee's book? If so that book may have some bearing on the story he's telling. Interesting if this is true. Enough so even if it is only "The Swimmer" which is tied into it but still -- I think I'll go back and see if there is another reference. Dottie "I take a nap....It doesn't help much, but then again it doesn't do any harm."
Topic: A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee (86 of 86), Read 15 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Sunday, November 03, 2002 10:46 PM Wow, great discussion, folks. I was so horrified by that scene when K was killed that I read through it fairly quickly and totally missed the fetus' hand. I'm glad that I can find out about it here without having to read that again. If I remember the Cheever story correctly, there was a sense that it was the ultimate suburban nightmare. The community and appearances were so important to the swimmer that, when he finally got home, it was gone. That must be the reason for the inclusion of the story and Hata's constant swimming. I'm amazed that I read that at the time and didn't make the connection. However, Hata realizes it before he's lost everything. And, that also explains why he's not going to stay there with Sunny and Thomas. It feels like a kind of purging. Robt, I really like your reasoning about the house. Barb

 

 

 
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