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After fictionalizing elements of the Patty Hearst kidnapping for her second novel (the 2004 Pulitzer finalist American Woman), Choi combines elements of the Wen Ho Lee accusations and the Unabomber case to create a haunting meditation on the myriad forms of alienation. The suggestively named Lee, as he's called throughout, is a solitary Chinese emigre math professor at the end of an undistinguished Midwestern university career. He remains bitter after two very different failed marriages, despite his love for Esther, his globe-trotting grown daughter from the first marriage. As the book opens, Lee's flamboyant, futurist colleague in the next-door office, Hendley, is gravely wounded when Hendley opens a package that violently explodes. Two pages later, a jealous, resentful Lee "felt himself briefly thinking Oh, good." As a did-he or didn't-he investigation concerning Lee, the novel's person of interest, unfolds, Lee's carefully ordered existence unravels, and chunks of his painful past are forced into the light. While a cagily sympathetic FBI man named Jim Morrison and Lee's former colleague Fasano (who links the bombings to several other technologists) play well-turned supporting roles, Choi's reflections from Lee's gruffly brittle point of view are as intricate and penetrating as the shifting intrigue surrounding the bomb. The result is a magisterial meditation on appearance and misunderstanding as it plays out for Lee as spouse, colleague, exile and citizen. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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*Starred Review* Tenured math professor Lee has been teaching at a midwestern university for ages, yet he is utterly isolated within a web of anger and regret. When the popular young department star is gravely injured by a mail bomb, Lee is physically unharmed but psychically devastated. Assailed by painful memories of his affair with his only friend's wife and his own failed marriages, Lee, whose Asian background is left deliberately vague, is completely undone when he becomes a person of interest to the FBI. How he handles the hostility of his colleagues and the invasion of his privacy by the government and the press is the engine that drives this intricately psychological novel's brainy suspense, while the slow unveiling of his past tells a staggering story of love betrayed. Choi follows the game plan of her lauded second novel, American Woman (2003), a takeoff on the Patty Hearst story, venturing here, albeit superficially, into Unabomber territory. Lee is unconvincing as a mathematician but mesmerizing in his ineptness and anguish. Subtle humor, emotional acuity, and breathtaking plot twists keep this tale of wounding secrets rolling as Choi's brilliant calculus of revelation and forgiveness delivers a triumphant conclusion.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2007 Booklist