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A Person of Interest: A Novel Hardcover – January 31, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (January 31, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670018465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670018468
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,271,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 émigré 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Susan Choi’s American Woman (**** 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.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

That part of the book was the most overdone in complexity per too much descriptive information.
ReadsALot
Lee is not a particularly sympathetic character, but the author very carefully, even tediously, captures the life of a man who seemed to be perpetually maladjusted.
J. Grattan
A novel without much plot or dialogue needs a real prose stylist, and Ms. Choi does not seem to measure up.
G.S.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By David M. Giltinan on March 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For the day and a half or so that I spent reading this book last weekend, very little got done in my home. When I finally finished it on Sunday evening, all the subtle indicators of a misspent weekend were evident - dirty dishes in the sink, heaps of dirty laundry, piles of assorted tax-related documents still needing to be corraled into some semblance of order, and two less than gruntled kitties, whose reproaches were getting progressively more vocal. Having written that, I realise that saying a book is more interesting than household chores might be considered damning it with faint praise, so let me clarify - that's not what I mean - this book is engrossing, and you may find it an irresistible time-sink.

It's been widely, and generally favorably, reviewed. I think the praise is well-deserved. Susan Choi writes beautifully, and was remarkably effective in making me care about Professor Lee, the central character, despite his many flaws and almost total lack of empathy. The basic plot outline - Lee comes under suspicion in the investigation of the death of a colleague who died following a Unabomber-style attack - is sketched in most reviews of the book, so I won't dwell on it here. The plot is not really the book's strong point - it is a little haphazard, with some aspects that don't seem completely plausible. But that hardly matters, it really just serves to provide the framework for Choi's in-depth, fascinating, and completely convincing character study of her flawed protagonist.

In the novel, Lee is a math professor; I spent four years of graduate school studying mathematical statistics. At certain points in the book I would find myself thinking - "she's exaggerating - nobody could be that lacking in empathy".
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on March 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is a highly poignant examination of how the combination of personality, circumstances, otherness, and a climate of hysteria can result in becoming a "person of interest" to law enforcement agencies, unleashing both official and community forces that can virtually destroy a life regardless of ultimate guilt. When aging professor Lee, teaching mathematics at a small mid-Western college, is nearly killed by the blast from a mail-bomb opened by a colleague in the adjacent office, his strained relationships in the dept, his Asian background, his failure to evince sufficient sympathy, and his nervous behavior around authorities make him a convenient target.

The author really gets into the mind of Professor Lee as he flashes back through his life regarding his secondary professional status, his resentments and insecurities, his concern with appearances, and his failed relationships both professional and marital. Lee is not a particularly sympathetic character, but the author very carefully, even tediously, captures the life of a man who seemed to be perpetually maladjusted. It is not surprising that his reaction to an unsigned letter shortly after the bombing, believing that it came from a former colleague seeking some sort of revenge because Lee had absconded with his wife some thirty years prior, generates suspicion.

The book can go rather slowly: the writing is not without its complexity and dexterity. The hunt for the bomber occurs mostly in the background, as Lee's plight occupies the front stage. The book is not a "thriller"; it is a psychological profile of a man set adrift from his precarious comfort zone. Don't read the book for its action. The connection to the Unabomber story is implied, but is hardly key to the book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By demerson19 on October 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
A Person of Interest builds on the same model as American Woman where Choi adds a fictional side to a real life event. First it was the Patty Hearst story, and this time the Unabomber meets up with Wen Ho Lee who was falsely accused of espionage. But Choi is even less interested in tying into real life in this book than with American Woman. Choi's interest is in how the truth can appear to be a malleable substance, but in the end the truth appears as an objective source around which we all revolve.

I'm not sure Choi would buy into this thought, but that is how the book plays out. Her main character, Professor Lee, is an undistinguished math professor close to retiring from an undistinguished Midwest school when his "hotshot" colleague is killed by a mail bomb. Although slightly injured himself in the blast, Lee emerges as a "person of interest," as the FBI struggle to piece together the truth. As we watch this emerge we step back into Lee's graduate career, his two failed marriages, his estranged daughter, and his own sleeplike existence in life.

While the FBI try to make their theories work, and fail, Lee is brought into focus as someone who has tried to make life work the way he wants, and fails. The clearest example is the infant child his first wife has with her first husband, although she was soon after having an affair with Lee. He refuses to see this child as part of their existence and his wife allows the child to be taken by her ex-husband. Lee's reality is that the child does not exist, but of course the truth is the child does exist and Lee's attempt to alter reality fails miserably. In addition, like the FBI he cannot shake his own theory of the bombing when he discovers the person he is sure is the bomber has been dead for many years.
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