The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee

The Surrendered

Chang-Rae Lee

An epic, sprawling novel spanning the 1930s to the 80s; from Korea and China to New York and Italy. Even though I was prepared for a war story, I still found the bleak, vivid violence and despair deeply disturbing. Yet I felt compelled to continue, living alongside the 3 main characters – observing their physical and psychological hurt – not just by war but also by grief, loss, addiction and love.

But it was like anything else, for as disgusting as the tasks were, one grew accustomed to the abominable sights and smells and processes of the necessary operations: the way you'd have to tug just enough on a corpse's arms, say, if the rest of him was stuck in the dirt and a bit too ripened, so as not to pull them off completely; or how you'd pour hot water from a kettle and chip away carefully with a bayonet to release a poor bastard who was frozen facedown in snow and ice, the flesh falling off sometimes like shredded meat, and other times remaining absolutely preserved and perfect if he'd been there only a night or two. Or in the first days of the spring thaw how they'd find a mess of bodies in a ditch and could tell only from the uniforms if they were enemies or friendlies, and if friendlies maybe only from the hair colour whether they were white or black, because all of them had turned the color and sheen of licorice by then, the skin finely lacquered by the elements. Every man is a black man in the end, was the joke among them, which made for a bitter laugh and a moment's introspection before they'd continue traversing the slushy snowpack of the hillsides in search of newly exposed bodies.
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