The award-winning author of Native Speaker and On Such a Full Sea returns with a picaresque featuring Tiller, an American college student whose life is transformed when a Chinese-American businessman named Pong suddenly takes him under his wing on a global adventure.
... a wild-ride picaresque, wisecracking, funny, ambitious, full of sex and danger ... The novel is much like Tiller himself, a strangely meek yet cocky young man who tells his story with the pace of someone setting you up for a scam. It is a bold reworking of the bedroom-community novel established by John Cheever and John Updike, perhaps even a satire of it, the title a wink at both Tiller’s skipping school, John Hughes-style, and the international nature of the book, with its panoply of complex characters who make a mockery of other writers’ attempts to diversify their fictions ... As a picaresque goes, it is an intimate one.
My Year Abroad is an extraordinary book, acrobatic on the level of the sentence, symphonic across its many movements—and this is a book that moves ... a wild ride—a caper, a romance, a bildungsroman, and something of a satire of how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. This isn’t a book that skates through its many disparate-seeming scenes, but rather unites them in the heartfelt adventure of its protagonist, who begins his year 'abroad' as a foreign land to himself and arrives at something like belonging by the end of his story.
An exuberant picaresque in style, My Year Abroad is thematically a study of human consumption, and the kinds of people who benefit from it ... Smaller crises also crop up throughout My Year Abroad, an ambitious work that sows an exhilarating sense that something could go wrong at any turn. More than malice, the characters’ ennui is what threatens their well-being. That relatable boredom makes My Year Abroad a curious quarantine read. Following along with Tiller’s international—if sometimes unsavory—adventures, I found myself wishing I could fly off … nearly anywhere. The trick—and delight—of Lee’s novel is that it forces readers to sit with their confusing desires, to question the appeal of the things we don’t or can’t or shouldn’t have ... To Lee’s credit, he explores this human impulse not through self-conscious inquiry, but through wildly creative, adventurous storylines ... Hunger—to belong, and for belongings—drives the primary conflicts in My Year Abroad. Whatever they’re looking for, the characters find trouble when they let the intensity of their desires cloud their judgment ... In that sense, My Year Abroad prompts the same hunger its story implicitly criticizes: Even at the end of a jam-packed tale, it’s hard not to want more.