four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
By: 
Susan Choi
user_rating: 
0

A-A Person of InterestLee, a Chinese émigré and mathematics professor in the Midwest, comes under suspicion when a mail bomb explodes in the office next door, seriously wounding a star computer scientist. (Think Unabomber and Wen Ho Lee.) As Lee, who expresses no regret for the injuries inflicted on his more popular colleague, acts increasingly suspicious, the FBI targets him as a person of interest. Lee then receives a disturbing letter from an old friend—perhaps a connection to the bombing—and starts to recall his graduate school days and two failed marriages. Lee soon becomes an object of persecution by a vigilant community and by hyperactive media, and questions about exile, alienation, paranoia, and identity arise.
Viking. 356 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670018465

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The question of who did it is ultimately less compelling than the character who clearly didn’t. We read A Person of Interest for one of the best reasons to read any fiction: to transcend the limitations of our own lives, to find out what it’s like to be someone else, to recognize unmistakable aspects of ourselves staring back at us from the portrait of a stranger." Francine Prose

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"What Choi’s book does so well is deliver a sense of the complexity of being a foreigner in a country in which diversity is part of the official program but often suspect. … A Person of Interest is an inquiry into social marginalization." Carlo Wolff

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[Choi’s] merciless knowledge of [Lee], her sardonic analysis of his anxiety, his shame and his compulsive jealousy result in a cringe-inducing performance, a tour de force." Ron Charles

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"With a mystery writer’s flair for suspense, Choi juxtaposes flashbacks of Lee’s early years as an immigrant and graduate student with the FBI investigation of the bombing, interleaving seemingly random events until we realize how Lee’s past, both personal and academic, has come to bear on his present." Marisa Silver

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Perhaps what is most compelling—and disturbing—about Choi’s novel is the way the small community contributes to this culture of suspicion. … Readers may be unsatisfied with the revelation of the bomber’s identity, though the novel does suggest that there is no way to accurately predict which social outsider may choose to lethally express his dismay." Matt Shears

USA Today 3 of 5 Stars
"Lee’s cold and sanctimonious persona and his unattractive habit of being jealous of everyone he encounters prevent him from becoming a genuinely sympathetic character in this otherwise fascinating novel." Carol Memmott

Critical Summary

Susan Choi’s American Woman ( 4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2003), a Pulitzer Prize finalist, fictionalized the abduction of Patty Hearst; here, she successfully tackles terrorism in an alienated America. Praised by the New York Times Book Review as "combining the unhurried pleasures of certain classics with the jittery tensions of more recent fiction," A Person of Interest is more notable for its acute psychological insight and focus on one man’s discovery of himself than for its whodunit elements. A few reviewers faulted the flashbacks and ending and thought the novel too ambitious for its central character, but the majority commended Choi’s piercing exploration of how terrorism leads both to alienation and self-knowledge.