“And the idea entreats me once more, to wonder if something like love is forever victorious, truly conquering all, or if there are those who, like me, remain somehow whole and sovereign, still love unvanquished.”
Today’s Quote of the Day comes from my favourite Chang-rae Lee novel, A Gesture Life. Although best known for his debut novel, Native Speaker (winner of the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award and the American Book Award), A Gesture Life is a beautiful work of fiction that mixes lyrical, song-like prose with the hardship of reflecting back on a life that is wrought with tragedy and fatal mistakes.
The story switches back and forth between the past and present and does so to overwhelming success. The protagonist, a Korean-born Japanese man named Doc Hata, eventually settles in New England later in life, but he has a dark secret that involves something very few Europeans and North Americans know much about: World War II comfort women. The majority of these women were Korean, though there were also Chinese, Taiwanese and even Dutch nationals (living in Indonesia) who were essentially sex slaves used by the Imperial Japanese Army in their march across Asia. They typically lived “in harsh conditions, where they were subjected to continual rapes and were beaten or murdered if they resisted.”
In A Gesture Life, the reader is transported to Burma (or Myanmar as it’s now known) near the end of the war through Doc Hata and the writing pops off the page with its authenticity and pathos. Yet it’s the slow revelations much later in Doc Hata’s life that lends the book a quiet mysteriousness that for me still resonates to this day.
If you’ve never read anything before by the Stanford creative writing professor, I strongly encourage you to start with this novel. You won’t regret it.