The Literary Geography of The Japanese Army Camp in Chang-Rae Lee’s A Gesture Life

Chaiyon Tongsukkaeng


Most studies on Chang-Rae Lee’s A Gesture Life heavily focus on questions relating to the diaspora’s Asian-American citizenship and cultural assimilation. However, not many critics have examined the geography of the Imperial Japanese Army Camp in Southeast Asia, particularly in Burma, where the tropical environment is significantly represented in Lee’s novel. This paper discusses Andrew Thacker’s idea of literary geography in the novel in order to engage with historical dynamism and the brutality of World War II through the plight of ‘comfort women’. The novel portrays Doc Hata, a retired Japanese-American medical supplier, whose past experience as a paramedic officer in Burma haunts a problematic relationship in present-day America with his adopted, fallen daughter. The representation of the infirmary, the comfort house, and the clearing epitomises the savagery of the army camp in connection with Doc Hata’s identity crisis. I argue that Lee’s memory of war challenges and resists forms of political ideology and its proprietors that dehumanise the victims. This reveals shame, guilt, and loss, as represented by the savagery in the local landscape, which in turn is embedded in the global historical significance of World War II.

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549