Monday, June 30, 2008


A Person of Interest, Susan Choi, Viking Penguin, 2008, 356 pp

A "person of interest" is an FBI term meaning someone deemed important to an investigation. Professor Lee, a Japanese immigrant and American citizen for over 30 years, a mathematician in his 60s who has tenure at an insignificant mid-western college, is possibly one of the least interesting persons around. Yet after a bomb explodes in the office next to his, killing a colleague, Professor Lee becomes of interest to the FBI and finds himself a suspect in the eyes of his department, his students and his neighborhood.

He enters a state of extreme fear and anxiety. Susan Choi so expertly details Lee's turmoil that as a reader, I was in that state along with him for the several days I was reading this literary thriller. And literary it is. Long sentences, somewhat deep ideas about math, competition, love, insecurity, the immigrant experience, made for a slow start but I could not stop reading and the pages turned fairly rapidly.

The novel could be called When Bad Things Happen to Ordinary People. No one comes out as a particularly likable person. Lee and his main FBI contact become enmeshed in a curiously symbiotic relationship and completely unexpectedly become heroes, each in his own way. The last 100 pages left me breathless, panting really, and deeply satisfied. As they say in the blurbs, a triumph.

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