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A Person of Interest    by Susan Choi order for
Person of Interest
by Susan Choi
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2009 (2008)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Professor Lee, an aloof, temperamental, and isolated professor of mathematics at an American college, has twenty years of experience in his department. No one really knows very much about the Asian-born mathematician's personal life or his background, and he is content to remain somewhat anonymous and enigmatic within the cloistered academic environment of the Midwestern campus where he is comfortably tenured and immune from anyone's rigorous scrutiny.

Then something bizarre and tragic happens when Lee's colleague, Professor Hendley, a computer systems researcher, opens a package that had apparently arrived in the mail. No one could have anticipated a bomb in the small, heavy cardboard box with the Sun Microsystems logo and address printed on it. Hendley had been alone in his office - adjacent to Lee's - when the bomb exploded. Then Lee's problems begin.

In the tragic aftermath of the murderous incident - reminiscent of the modus operandi that America's collective consciousness associates with the infamous Unabomber - local police, FBI, national news media, and Lee's own colleagues and acquaintances begin to regard Lee as a person of interest as they search for the person they have named the Brain Bomber. Then, making everything even more problematic for the mathematics professor, the past obtrusively intrudes upon and further threatens Lee when he receives a disturbing letter.

In a deliberately paced, carefully constructed narrative in which Lee's successes and failures (personal, professional, and political) are juxtaposed and examined, A Person of Interest becomes something more than a run-of-the-mill mystery; instead it becomes an astute character study and social critique in which author Susan Choi (in this her second novel) considers the complexities of Lee and the ways in which American culture paradoxically warmly embraces and rejects people who come from other countries and make America their new home. At the same time, the sensitive and gifted Choi carefully examines American tendencies toward xenophobia, paranoia, and tensions (especially relevant during our era of terrorism), and shows how an individual - ostensibly innocent, at least based on his or her own representations, but stigmatized as an outsider and burdened by guilt from an undisclosed past - might hope to achieve something resembling exoneration, redemption, and acceptance within the American experience.

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