Chang-Rae Lee's latest book, My Year Abroad, is a tour-de-force that is both an expected build-up to almost all the previous books that he has written, and a total surprise with his chosen protagonist, twenty-year-old Tiller. This is a departure from the main characters that he has created over the years—mostly older men in their fifties or sixties. In My Year Abroad, youthfulness and daring dreams—either carefree or reckless—are the dark oxygenated blood driving the plot. We see that Tiller is an anchor in his relationship with Val, a woman in her thirties, and Victor Jr., her eight-year-old son. He completes this "family" unit with the astuteness of a "husband" and "father"—though he is only twenty, barely an adult.
The pace picks up when Tiller meets Pong, a successful self-made China businessman. This is the point when the book becomes Alice in Wonderland meets Moby Dick meets Fight Club. It is a rabbit hole of pumping adrenaline as one recalls the faithful refrain from Fight Club. I think this is the most significant moment because Tiller is entering the real world and his role is reversed—Pong is now the father figure to him, leading him into a world unknown, like a passage to adulthood. Parenthood and mentorship are constant themes in the book—Tiller comes from a broken family at a young age, as an only child with a runaway mother and a loving father who never got over the grief of losing his wife.
If you want to walk in Tiller's shoes to see how the story ends, get comfy because it is a wild ride. Also, this book is screaming to be adapted into a Netflix movie with South Korean director Park Chan-Wook's name written on it. But before this ever becomes a reality, just read the book first.