A compelling story of a mad bomber, a suspect scientist, and paranoia in the age of terror from the National Book Award finalist and author of Trust Exercise and My Education
Professor Lee, an Asian-born mathematician near retirement age would seem the last person to attract the attention of FBI agents. Yet after a colleague becomes the latest victim of a serial bomber, Lee must endure the undermining power of suspicion and face the ghosts of his past.
With its propulsive drive, vividly realized characters, and profound observations about soul and society, Pulitzer Prize-finalist Susan Choi's third novel is as thrilling as it is lyrical, and confirms her place as one of the most important novelists chronicling the American experience. Intricately plotted and psychologically acute, A Person of Interest exposes the fault lines of paranoia and dread that have fractured American life and asks how far one man must go to escape his regrets.
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 migr 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.