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Edinburgh: A Novel Paperback – November 9, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (November 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312305036
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312305031
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #538,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

When the director of a boys' choir in Maine molests his young charges, the damage he inflicts spirals outward in ever larger circles. The novel's hero, Fee, a Korean-American teen-ager, is unable to separate what has been done to him from his own budding desire for a fellow-choirboy, and is thus unable to save his friend from the same fate. Years later, as a high-school teacher, Fee discovers that the choir director's son is one of his students. Chee has chosen difficult territory for his first novel, but by balancing its anguish with fantasy and Korean folk tales, he keeps a sad story from becoming maudlin.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

From Booklist

If a story about child molestation could ever be beautiful, this first novel comes very close to that unusual mark. Fee is a 12-year-old soprano in a boys choir in Maine. The choir director, however, is revealed to be a malicious pederast, who selects favorites from the choir and subjects them to frequent sexual abuse. The pain that Fee and his friends endure while growing up with this horrible fact, even after the director is imprisoned, is almost unfathomable. But Fee gets through it, although the dread stays with him all his life--through his self-destructive college days and as he courts a succession of lovers. Years later, as he begins teaching at a prep school, he encounters a beautiful student named Warden, the son of Fee's former choirmaster, who knows nothing of his father's deeds. Confronting this student, Fee is forced to contend with the demons of his boyhood and the very way he has lived his life. A spectacular, gripping, and gut-wrenching tale. Michael Spinella
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Very well written.
Samuel Rotenstreich
Like a tragedy, the novel opens with a prologue, which I think should be read at the beginning and end of the book to get the full effect of the story.
Larry Mark MyJewishBooksDotCom
The first person, present tense of the narration impresses a sense of immediacy relevant for the dramatization of the characters' consciousness.
Eric Anderson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This beautifully written novel's subject matter will probably alienate some readers, but I urge you to read this entire review before deciding whether this book is for you.
Twelve year old Aphias Zhe, nicknamed Fee, has a crystalline soprano voice, and so when he auditions for a boys choir, he is immediately accepted. What Fee knows intuitively becomes concrete as the choir director, Big Eric, takes Fee and a few other boys on an outing in the woods: Big Eric is a pedophile who preys on the young boys' vulnerability. Where others cannot, Fee sees right through to the man and his preference for fair-headed boys like Fee's best friend, Peter. Fee, who is part Korean, part Scottish, is not a favorite; he watches mainly from a distance, knowing the danger Big Eric poses but unwilling to articulate it. He hopes that the false front Big Eric has constructed will never crumble for, if it does, Fee fears he will also be revealed for what he is. When the choir director is caught, the wake of his crime crushes his victims, even those who live to adulthood.
As Fee grows up, he appears to recover, but inside he wants to die. He is gay, not because of the choir director's crime but in spite of it. Fee wants love, tenderness, someone who can rival the affection he felt for Peter, and not the predatory sex Big Eric sought. Yet, Fee continues to be haunted by what happened. When as an adult he meets a blonde boy who reminds him of Peter and who, despite his young age, has a connection to what happened long ago, Fee must confront his demons.
While at times overly lyrical, the novel is a delicate coming-of-age story. Chee has a remarkable command of images and language which add rich layers to what could have been a simple plot.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Eric Anderson on October 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Alexander Chee's first novel is the tale of a demon fox who is finally captured. Aphias Zee or Fee is an American of Korean and Scottish descent. In early age Fee's grandfather tells him the tale of Lady Tammamo, a fox who fell in love and, after being ridiculed by the community after her husband's death, engulfed herself and her husband's body in flames. He believes himself to be a fox in the shape of a man. Greek mythology informs his destiny as well, subtly setting the stage upon which the events of his life play. Yet, above the decorous theatre is a profoundly human story of Fee's experience growing up in Maine and, along with eleven other boys, suffering sexual abuse at the hands of a Boys Chorus instructor named Big Eric. Sex and suicide surround Fee through his entire adolescence and teenage years. He learns somehow to survive with the elements of creation and death orbiting him constantly, but it is an empty sort of existence for him. Passion is expended on lovers he doesn't care for. The guilt of his former instructor attaches itself to him as he discovers quickly that he is a homosexual himself. His natural desire is tragically intertwined with the other's perversity. His first love, Peter, becomes for him a distorted mirror image of all he is not: blonde, straight and freed by death. Thus, he embarks on an endless struggle to merge with this image, to fall into it, be devoured and emerge cleansed by flame. Despite surviving (barely) through college, making close friends and finding a lover, Bridely, who he marries in a commitment ceremony, Fee is unable to escape from his past and the conception of his own destiny militated by his demon fox spirit. He is paired finally with a spectre from the past and the mirror image he longed to meld into.Read more ›
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Laure-Madeleine on March 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
'Edinburgh,' is an exceptional debut novel by Alexander Chee that tells the story of a gay Korean-American youth, Aphias Zhe, nicknamed Fee, who survives sexual abuse by his choir director, Big Eric Gorendt. Fee grows up in Cape Elizabeth, 'a town still half full of farms' near Portland, Maine, as part of a multi-generational family. He is twelve when the story begins, and he auditions for the Pine State Boys Choir and is selected along with another boy, Peter, who becomes his best friend and first love. Fee's story is told on many levels: 'This is a fox story,' Fee says. 'Of how a fox can be a boy. And so it is also the story of a fire.'
The reader learns of Peter's demise from the first sentence of the prologue: 'After he dies, missing Peter for me is like swimming in the cold spot of the lake: everyone else laughing in the warm water under too-close summer sun. This is the question that no one asks me.' From his Korean grandfather, whose six older sisters were taken away by the Japanese Imperial Army to become 'comfort women,' Fee hears the story of the shape-shifting fox-demon, whose imagery will reappear to him often over the years. Fire is a recurring theme in 'Edinburgh': it brings immolation, purification, and transcendence.
The title, 'Edinburgh,' comes from the city in Scotland, and it's also a painted fresco on the library ceiling of Fee's part-time employer, Edward Speck, an Oxford-educated historian. Speck is an elderly bachelor who employs young men as his assistants; his mentoring of them is respectful and non-predatory, unlike that of the married Big Eric. One day, Speck shows Fee an old letter from Edinburgh that was found in the spire of a cathedral; it had been written by a man who was ravaged by the Black Plague.
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