“A Gesture Life” by Chang-Rae Lee

The stupid girl that I was thought this would be ‘The Native Speaker’, thebook by Chang-rae Lee acclaimed by so many. Without thinking, I saw the author’s name and ‘Author of the Native Speaker’ and grabbed it. It was a book I had laid my eyes on for like ever at Kyobo, a little dubious, and I had finally decided to buy and read it. Instead, I picked his second book and didn’t realize it until I actually picked it from my shelf to finally read it (after getting bored with ‘Catch 22’). But well, it’s a decent book, and I’m looking forward to ‘The Native Speaker’, which I will definitely buy next time I go to Kyobo.

‘A Gesture Life’ is an easy and simple read, if one doesn’t want to bother with the underlying and quiet emptiness of Doc Hata that unravels as the novel progresses. Doc Hata seems simple and peaceful enough, pleased with his little medical store and trying to please and agree with everyone without the annoyance that people who want to please everyone usually tend to display. That is, to those who have had the chance not to get too close to him, at least. He secretely wants to be accepted, by the town, but especially by his adopted daughter Sunny, yet the sad part is, his past as a soldier from WWII does not allow him. If one considers his experiences as a Japanese boy sent to an adoptive family, as a boy of Korean descent in a society that would despise and look down on such people, as a soldier in WWII looking after four ‘comfort girls’, especially after K, and finally as a foreigner in a town where foreigners are not a usual sight, I think one would clearly understand and even expect Doc Hata’s behavior.

His desire to have people close to him is alas unaccompanied with the adequate acts and behavior, or the perfect words that will make the other person develop a closer relationship. Yet Doc Hata does everything in his power. He is gentle, he knows how to comfort people, his words spell out ‘I understand you, I agree with you, I am with you’. And that’s because he fails to realize that ‘being nice’ does not mean ‘being human’. Being human also involves being angry, being frustrated and being strict from time to time. But it is my interpretation that Doc Hata has left all that in the clearing of the jungle, with the remains of K he couldn’t gather.

And just when he is about to have another chance at opening his heart, with Thomas, he fails to seize it, no, he cannot seize it, and he has to leave again.


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