Vanessa V. Friedman
September 24, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

A Gesture Life

Current Status
In Season
Chang-rae Lee

We gave it an B

In his small New York town, Doc Hata is known for his consideration, his manners, and his beautiful house (and, though it is never overtly stated, for being Japanese). When his estranged adopted daughter returns to a nearby town with her son, Hata’s desire to untangle their relationship leads him to examine his own past, chiefly his stint as a medic in a Japanese battalion during World War II. There he was in charge of the ”comfort women” brought to the camp, one of whom he loved and lost in a notably brutal fashion. Only when he confronts this loss can he understand the effect it had on his daughter. The final epiphany, when it comes, is tiny, but in a book marked by its calm and controlled prose — sometimes, it should be said, too calm and controlled — it resonates like a cannon blast. B

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