This novel, his fourth, gathers life greedily, hungrily, but with a certain stealth: Lee doesn’t bolt it all down at once, as the refugee children in his story do. The Surrendered, his largest, most ambitious book, is about the horrors of war and the sorrows of survival, yet its manner is quiet, watchful, expectant, as if everyone, including Lee himself, were waiting to see what might accrue ... He moves back and forth in time, circling his characters, sizing them up... He shifts point of view frequently to give us some relief from his heroine’s blurred, in-and-out consciousness ...Lee invents an extraordinary number of vivid characters, many of whom prove to be just passing through on their way to violent, senseless ends ... Sentence by mournful sentence he keeps on, struggling a bit at times but constantly pushing forward, taking his characters however he can to a place where they can rest.
...a book that is commendably ambitious, extremely well written, powerfully moving in places, and, alas, utterly conventional. Here the machinery of traditional, mainstream storytelling threshes efficiently ... Many of these scenes are piercingly evoked, and the novel is so spacious in design and reach, so sensitive to historical catastrophe, that it seems churlish to bridle. Yet in the aggregate this slabbed magnificence seems, if not melodramatic, then certainly stagy, even bookish, a livid libretto, something made for the novel rather than made by it ...passage is typical both of the novel’s brilliance of prose and of its violent disclosures: Lee’s relentless, cruel calm is sometimes reminiscent of Tim O’Brien’s accounts of combat in Vietnam.
Cross-cutting between the three protagonists' perspectives at different points in their lives, Lee effectively builds suspense around a series of mysteries ... The problem with The Surrendered, despite Lee's characteristically elegant prose (his first two novels entirely deserved the plaudits and praise they received), is that few of these questions are adequately answered ... During the war, carnage can multiply: June, Hector and Sylvie each survives atrocities that Lee narrates with immense power and skill; the death of Sylvie's parents is especially haunting, and alone makes the novel worth reading ...a novel almost cut off in mid-bloom by an author who hasn't kept quite vigilant enough, and surrendered a bit too easily.
...Chang-Rae Lee, the award-winning Korean-American novelist, has decided that the war and its human events are ready for their closeup, delivering a sweeping novel in which connected lives also link mass atrocities seemingly unrelated and far apart ... As ravingly as The Surrendered portrays the deaths, often under torture, of countless war victims –– many of them victors only in name –– Lee also times its sequences to a single, slow, highly particularized dying ... The sign posts in his story, though, point all roads not to Rome but Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and his re-visiting of military and political history becomes a re-ordering of literary tradition as well ... The intelligence of The Surrendered lies in an awareness that while, on the one hand, wherever there is anguish there will forever be those working to alleviate it, on the other, no force exists powerful enough to entirely eradicate the memory of evil.
The Surrendered is powered by injustice, even rage ... All of Lee's characters are hungry –– for food, for love, for some peace and safety. Many are orphans; all are refugees –– that capacious metaphor for life ... The often graphic violence in the novel gives it a strange, uneven heat ... What makes this a big novel is not just its range, its historic scope or the number of lives gathered in its pages, but that their memories do not entirely explain the course of their lives ... Sometimes Lee's characters walk right through that slender opening in the fabric of fate. He could not hold them down, even if he wanted to.
The Surrendered, an ambitious and ineffably sad novel of war and a search for belonging, is the story of three people forever and invincibly damaged by war, all of them ingrown, selfish and emotionally stunted ... These three haunted souls collide in time and place, bringing similar visions of the world with them. They all try out a version of love on each other, which more closely resembles need. The circumstances of the novel are horrific, the people unlovable and, in the end, there is no tidy redemption ... Lee is a masterful storyteller. While it is hard to prioritize his work in terms of good/better/best, this novel stands very high on the list.
It’s big, ambitious, and full of an almost reckless risk-taking ...is one of the most harrowing, hair-raising, mouth-drying experiences I’ve ever had while reading a work of fiction. Everything that could go wrong does go wrong, and from there gets worse. Amazingly, this downward slope continues beyond the first chapter into the purest abjection ...motion of the narrative requires The Surrendered to move from the realism of its war chapter to melodrama and a whole host of other popular narratives involving femme fatales, hard-boiled detectives, mob bosses, and petty crooks ...writing is no less polished, no less beautiful to behold, than in Lee’s earlier novels, but it also serves to move the story along, to draw us into a moment, to give us a sense of immersion that more often than not Lee’s other writings have given only partway.
Moving between the Korean War and its aftermath, to mid-'80s New York, with a horrendous flashback to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1934, The Surrendered is a gorgeously written tragedy about three people who pay a high price for surviving war ... None of the protagonists finds redemption, but the harshness of their lives is lit by language so observant and wise that it renders them dignified and beautiful despite their tragic fates.
With The Surrendered, Lee continues to write about the Korean War and the mix of cultures, but he has dropped his questions of identity. Instead, he weaves a tale of three characters beset by tragedies ...a lugubrious story with little redemption, though Lee is always masterful at drawing his characters and rendering human frailty ... In one of the most confounding features of the novel, Lee leaves the period from June's adolescence to this last-gasp adventure largely unremarked upon ... When the piling up of tragedies stops moving emotions and becomes ridiculous, I start craving a palate cleanser. A dollop of chick fiction, please.
The author of A Gesture Life and Aloft has already proven himself a literary force to be reckoned with, but he’s ratcheted things up a notch with his epic of grief and survival, The Surrendered ... All three main characters are shaped by unendurable losses, although they all endure ... The cumulative weight of tragedies is enough to make it seem as if the characters in King Lear were merely having an off week ... Lee delineates, in thoughtful detail, the emotional toll survival has on his characters ... In addition to Homer, Lee weaves in references to the battle of Solferino in Italy, quoting extensively from an account by an eyewitness to that tragedy.
Chang-rae Lee's beautifully brutal and sad novel The Surrendered opens with a harrowing scene at the start of the Korean War. But the book is less about war than its aftermath and the kind of scars that never heal ...set in the USA, Korea, China and Europe, moves back and forth in time, slowly reconnecting the intersections of three ruined lives ...a complex story, rich in details, if at times too rich for impatient readers. In the end, it's not just about war's easy brutalities but also the power and limits of love.
...echoes through the pages of Chang-rae Lee's harrowing and elegiac new novel about the anguish and cruelty of war ... In slow-evolving scenes, Lee immerses us in the palpable universe of violence and deprivation as experienced by soldiers and civilians alike. He works methodically to show the corrosive power of witnessing ... This array of bones, stark and artfully arranged, is an apt artistic leitmotif for The Surrendered; with impeccable language and overarching compassion, Lee has created a timeless tragedy and a triumph.
The Surrendered follows three characters whose already-complicated lives intersect at a Korean war orphanage in the 1950s. As the novel shifts between settings and points of view, we find that events that occur at the orphanage (chiefly, a fatal fire) make it impossible for the people involved to truly move on –– even if they do not acknowledge it themselves ...travels between the characters' individual stories, in periods of time before and after they meet: in Korea in the midst of civil war; two decades earlier, in China during Japanese occupation; the languid, working-class town of Ilion, New York during Hector's childhood ...Lee's talents show themselves in other deceptively small moments and details... Even when the language is beautiful, the plot that it forms is shaky ...becomes a study of how these human beings navigate the places where their flawed understanding of each other overlaps.
To that ample body of work add Chang-rae Lee’s fourth novel, The Surrendered, a devastating saga of three intersecting lives scarred irretrievably by the horrors of war ...collision of these characters, each damaged in a different way by a wartime experience, sets up an ultimately disastrous confrontation ... Lee contrasts the placid beauty of the Italian countryside with June’s physical decay and almost superhuman determination to press on until she has found Nicholas and has made her way to the chapel at Solferino... The novel’s pace is measured, almost painstakingly deliberate at times. Its scenes of violence are set against ones of exquisite compassion tempered with keen insight into the damaged souls of June, Hector and Sylvie.
Lee’s introspective and interrogatory novels seek the sources of their characters’ strengths and weaknesses in their own, and their families’ stories — nowhere more powerfully than in this exhaustive chronicle of three hopeful lives tempered in the crucibles of wars and their enduring aftermaths ... Each character’s past, motivations and future prospects are rigorously and compassionately examined, as the author follows them after the war. In its ineffably quiet way, there really is something Tolstoyan in this searching fiction’s determination to understand the characters specifically as members of families and products of other people’s influences ... A major achievement.