My Year Abroad, Chang-rae Lee, Riverhead Books, 2021, 498 pp
This is Chang-rae Lee's sixth novel. I have read every single previous one and loved each one in different ways.
I loved My Year Abroad for several things: the smart, sassy and delicious writing; the hero Tiller and his viewpoint as an Asian/American young man; the absolute richness that Chang-rae Lee brings to all his novels.
Let's go right to Tiller. In many ways he is a mess and yet he is wide open to experience. He has a secret sorrow and is so emotionally vulnerable I just wanted to give him hugs all the time. He is so game and willing when he follows the other main character, Pong the Chinese/American entrepreneur, into Asia. He just keeps trying to be whatever Pong seems to see in him. Many wild adventures ensue, seemingly millions of meals, predatory men and women of all levels of Asian society, and scenes that are barely believable.
There is an alternating time line in the story concerning Tiller's life in New Jersey, both before and after his year abroad. This was somewhat annoying except by the end I realized the author did me a favor. No matter the horrors Tiller experienced in that year, you know he made it through and you are shown his inner strengths in the kindest way possible.
That last paragraph may sound like a spoiler but it is not because you know all along that he did survive. The wonder of the book is that you still worry he won't.
The smart and sassy aspect includes Lee's deftness with the way college age Americans speak and behave. Also the exact truths he writes about our modern times, stereotypes, global trade practices, the effects of capitalism as a global phenomenon, all done in emotional yet humorous ways.
In case you are thinking this is a lot to unpack, you are right. You will know quite soon in the book whether it is your kind of story or not. It certainly was mine.