The Surrendered – Audiobook Review

The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee, narrated by James Yaegashi
Published in print by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin
Published in audio by Recorded Books


As much as I hate using the publisher’s description of books, I think I may have to for “The Surrendered.” There was so much going on I don’t think I can put it together coherently.

June Han was only a girl when the Korean War left her orphaned; Hector Brennan was a young GI who fled the petty tragedies of his small town to serve his country. When the war ended, their lives collided at a Korean orphanage where they vied for the attentions of Sylvie Tanner, the beautiful yet deeply damaged missionary wife whose elusive love seemed to transform everything. Thirty years later and on the other side of the world, June and Hector are reunited in a plot that will force them to come to terms with the mysterious secrets of their past, and the shocking acts of love and violence that bind them together.

As Lee unfurls the stunning story of June, Hector, and Sylvie, he weaves a profound meditation on the nature of heroism and sacrifice, the power of love, and the possibilities for mercy, salvation, and surrendering oneself to another. Combining the complex themes of identity and belonging of Native Speaker and A Gesture Life with the broad range, energy, and pure storytelling gifts of Aloft, Chang-rae Lee has delivered his most ambitious, exciting, and unforgettable work yet. It is a mesmerizĀ­ing novel, elegantly suspenseful and deeply affecting.

Thoughts on the story:

I really didn’t quite like the way that “The Surrendered” was structured. It opened with June in Korea, and then jumped ahead to her adult life. Shortly after we realize that she’s very sick and about to go off in search of her child, we jump to a pretty long section on Hector. At that point I had no idea how they really connected, and wasn’t sure why we had left June. I thought that this just went on too long, and it really broke up my investment in the story. In addition, June’s search for her son seemed to me like it was too much simply a vehicle to get her and Hector together and to tell their story in Korea, it didn’t have enough of an emotional impact for my taste. I think I would have preferred “The Surrendered” had it been set solely in Korea, with perhaps some flashbacks to Hector’s life before the war.

Thoughts on the audio production:

I’m sort of sad, because this production was so well done, and yet it so didn’t work for me. My first problem was that the entire first two discs worth of story didn’t have any dialog at all. This is obviously not the fault of James Yaegashi or Recorded Books, but it made it seem like Yaegashi was reading more than narrating. It wasn’t until I got farther into the story that I realized what a good narrator he actually really is. My biggest problem with “The Surrendered” in audio, though, was all the jumping around the story did between characters and in time. Perhaps I’m just not yet a sophisticated enough connoisseur, but I have a difficult time following most stories that jump around a lot in audio. I find that in print there tend to be clues in the formatting of the book, and it is much easier for me to jump back to find where that thread of storyline left off in print.


Because so many factors contributed to me not really liking “The Surrendered” I think that others with different pet peeves many enjoy it, but I can’t quite recommend it.

Buy this book from:
Audible: Audio
Powells: Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Print*
Amazon: Print*

This review was done with an audiobook received from Recorded Books for review.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman – Book Review

Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman
Published by Doubleday, an imprint of Random House

Becca and John’s wedding is a gorgeous and happy event despite everything that goes wrong, like the flower girl losing her basket before pictures, Becca’s father wearing sneakers because he packed two left dress shoes, and the fact that their mothers don’t really get along well. When the group pictures are finished, Becca and John stay behind for more pictures while the rest of the wedding party and guests move on to the reception. Everyone begins to get antsy when the bride and groom take an inordinately long time to arrive, until it finally becomes clear that tragedy has struck what should have been such a happy day, and both families will have to figure out a way to live with their grief.

I’m not sure there is a single thing I would change about “Red Hook Road,” it just captivated me and held me rapt, letting me experiencing the grief and anger of Becca and John’s without putting me so deep into their emotions that I couldn’t bear to pick up the book.

The prelude of the book was perfectly done. Waldman described the wedding in impersonal terms: the bride, the groom, the flower girl, letting the reader watch what was unfolding without yet being sure who these characters were and how they would play into the story. It was very well done, and I think a good decision since the bride and groom were obviously very central characters in the wedding, but in the rest of the book served as more of catalysts for emotion and action than as actual characters.

It would have been easy for a novel about four summers of grief and attempts at healing to seem drawn out and perhaps even obnoxious. Not so with “Red Hook Road.” Waldman’s characters continued to evolve and deal with their pain in different ways, even as they clung to the memories of their lost family members, and even as their loss exacerbated other problems in their lives.

Waldman hit every note perfectly with “Red Hook Road.” After reading it I feel the need to read her previous novels as soon as possible. Very highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.

This review was done with a book received from the publisher, through Shelf Awareness.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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