Critical Assessment

“Lee’s portrayal of Hata is written in unfashionably decorous prose, a language so fine and poised that its carefully situated eruptions seem even more radical. (When the absence of simple courtesies can seem viscerally disturbing, you know you’re in the hands of a virtuoso.) There are flourishes of language and lovely summaries of character that seem from time to time like the last lines of a torch song. Lee takes on history, war and peace, life and death, the class system, the ghosts of American progress, the family, aging and unresolved international war crimes. . . . His novel is so abundantly full that early on you may churlishly wonder if he can keep all those ideas aloft and in motion. He does, and you want to salute his ambition and fearlessness. Lee is an original.”

Leslie Brody, “Hindsight,” Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1999.

First Excerpt

“We sat in silence after that, the night fast approaching, the crickets just beginning to arise in song. Mary Burns glanced at the house, to Sunny’s bedroom window, which was still lighted. Shadows moved along a wall. They were already late for the dance, but it didn’t seem to matter. It was one of those moments that appear to take forever, though somehow everything was the better for it. I didn’t wish to go further in the conversation, nor did she, and if there was one true thing that we shared during our relations, it was that neither of us, for better or worse, had much stomach for these engagements, for taking certain issues to the necessary lengths. We rather floated the deep waters, just barely treading, although now I see how my friend Mary Burns held on to things more gravely than I, certain notions staying with her longer, more tightly clasped, so that in the end we were much farther apart in our feelings than I had ever imagined.”

6a00d83451bcff69e20120a4f8659c970bSecond Excerpt

“In an odd way, I think now that K wanted the same thing that I would yearn for all my days, which was her own place in the accepted order of things. She would be a young woman of character, as significant to her father as was his son. She would have the independence that comes from learning and grace. She would choose her kind of devotion; she would bear children and do her necessary work, a true vocation, and she would grow old as I have grown old, though she would look backward with a different cast than mine, a different afterlight. All I wished for was to be part (if but a millionth) of the massing, and that I pass through with something more than a life of gestures. And yet, I see now, I was in fact a critical part of events, as were K  and the other girls, and the soldiers and the rest. Indeed the horror of it was how central we were, how ingenuously and not we comprised the larger processes, feeding ourselves and one another to the all-consuming engine of the war.”