RF: You have said that you are “fascinated by people who find themselves in positions of alienation or some kind of cultural dissonance… people who are thinking about the culture and how they fit or don’t fit into it.” Indeed, in Native Speaker, your protagonist Henry Park, the son of Korean immigrants, spies on the community from which he hails, a voyeur who “translates” the culture in a sense, for his employers. You moved to the U.S. when you were three and having lived here since, it seems impossible to imagine that you are anything other than wholly American. Do you feel that complete assimilation is ever possible, or are we always tied to the people who look and act and think like us because we share a cultural legacy?
CRL: I don’t believe complete assimilation is possible, at least not for anyone who has an active, open mind. Every step, every entry into the flows of existence can be seen as a beginning, a commencement of a brand new way of seeing oneself in the world. This is the case for everyone. Of course those of us who grew up on the threshold of cultures perhaps have a more developed sense of this ‘being in a world’ as opposed to simply ‘being’; we are more conscious of the character of the realm, more skeptical of its sway, we have private quarrels with it and ourselves, and all this adds up to, I think, a special form of solitude. We would, like anyone, wish to belong truly and deeply but we know we can’t, not wholly, not ever. It’s when we try to fix our positions vis-à-vis the culture, when we try to deny the unceasing, dynamic nature of the exchange, that tragedies arise, whether it’s in the soul of one person or an entire nation.