Susan Choi The Foreign Student: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780060191498

The Foreign Student: A Novel

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9780060191498: The Foreign Student: A Novel

Set in wartime Korea during the early 1950s, and in the American South in the years immediately following, The Foreign Student brings together two intelligent, original charactersa Korean student and a rebellious young American womanin an affecting story of improbable love and emotional healing.

Chang Ahn, called Chuck, has arrived at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, with the contents of one suitcase and a working knowledge of English. It is 1955, and he has come to escape nightmarish memories of his native Korea. Guarded and reserved, Chuck is slow to befriend the American students, with the exception of Crane, a boisterous, wealthy dormitory mate who sets aside his own parochial opinions to cultivate a friendship with this intriguing Korean. A charismatic professor of English, Charles Addison, also takes a particular interest in Chuck.

But it is Katherine Monroe, alone among the members of the sleepy college community, who becomes the private center of Chuck's attention. In many ways, Katherine is as much an outsider as he is. Neither student nor faculty, she lives in Sewanee, somewhat isolated in her family's onetime summer house. The two meet on his first morning in town, and they sense an immediate, strange affinity. Katherine, commanding and resolute, begins marshaling Chuck on his round of obligations, and they form a devoted, if cautious, friendship. Both remain circumspect about the afflictions of the past that have led them to seek a kind of refuge in Sewanee.

The seemingly impossible love that develops between Katherine and Chuck is as first denied, later resisted by both. It will drive them apart, and send them on separate journeys of self-discovery that will eventually strengthen the bonds rather than the differences between them. Both loners and survivors, they must come to recognize why their pasts have led them to this particular time and place, and what fate has, perhaps, intended.

With the storytelling prowess of a seasoned veteran, and the elegant prose of a rare master of fiction, Susan Choi has written a stunning first novel. At once haunting and illuminating, The Foreign Student is a remarkable achievement.

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Review:

The year is 1955 and a young Korean man has just arrived at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. Chang Ahn has been dropped off at night in the middle of nowhere and left to make his way to the campus on his own: "This was the petrified figure that Mrs. Reston, the vice vice chancellor's housekeeper, found at the door to the vice vice chancellor's house.... You would not have known that the motionless person had just walked two miles straight uphill with a steady and terrified step." It soon becomes apparent that Chang, called Chuck, suffers from more than just fear of the dark. During the Korean War, he was first a translator for the United States and later a prisoner in a Communist internment camp. Even in the U.S. "he could not accept the lack of precaution as a sign that he was safe." On his first day in Sewanee, Chuck meets Katherine, a young woman who lives in town and is the secret lover of a professor who was once a classmate of her father's--and the man who first seduced her when she was 14.

The American South in 1955 is hardly an ideal locale to start an interracial romance, yet Katherine and Chuck are drawn to each other almost from the start. What begins as friendship gradually becomes something more, yet it takes a surprise proposal from Katherine's lover and a summer spent apart to make them face their true feelings. Susan Choi writes this first novel with assurance, weaving Chuck's terrible experiences of war and Katherine's own troubled past into a heartfelt tale of love that demonstrates real talent. Choi is definitely a writer to keep your eye on. --Margaret Prior

From the Back Cover:

Highly acclaimed by critics, The Foreign Student unfolds the story of the burgeoning love affair between a young Korean man scarred by war and the deeply troubled daughter of a wealthy Southern American family. In 1955, a new student arrives at a small college in the Tennessee mountains. Chuck is shy, speaks English haltingly, and on the subject of his earlier life in Korea he will not speak at all. Then he meets Katherine, a beautiful and solitary young woman who, like Chuck, is haunted by some dark episode in her past. Without quite knowing why, these two outsiders are irrevocably drawn together, each sensing in the other the possibility of salvation. Moving between the American South and South Korea, between an adolescent girl's sexual awakening and a young man's nightmarish memories of war, The Foreign Student is a powerful and emotionally gripping work of fiction.

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Susan Choi
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