Chang-rae Lee | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Chang-rae Lee 

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Tapped by the New Yorker a few years ago as one of the 20 best American writers under 40, Korean-born Chang-rae Lee has made his name with novels about cultural identity: both Native Speaker, his 1995 debut, and A Gesture Life, his 1999 follow-up, dealt with themes of assimilation and alienation. But in his most recent novel, last year's Aloft (Riverhead Books), he proves he's not bound by these themes, venturing into the realm of family drama. Retired from his landscaping business, 59-year-old Jerry Battle (inspired in part by Lee's real-life Italian-American father-in-law) finds solace making solo flights over Long Island in his small Skyhawk airplane. From up there he "can't see the messy rest"--his father living unhappily in a nursing home; his son running the family business into the ground; his pregnant daughter, diagnosed with cancer and refusing treatment for the sake of the baby; the girlfriend who's left him for another man. Jerry's been good at conflict avoidance ever since the suicide of his wife years before, but in a dramatic scene Lee handles with quiet finesse, he finds he can't continue to soar above it all; there's turbulence in the skies as well. Lee discusses his life and work with Booklist associate editor Donna Seaman for this Chicago Humanities Festival program. Sat 11/12, 12:30 PM, Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State, 312-661-1028 (info), 312-494-9509 (tickets). $5 in advance, $6 at the door.

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