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Edinburgh [Paperback]

Alexander Chee
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov 2002
Twelve-year-old Fee is a gifted Korean-American soprano in a boys' choir in Maine whose choir director reveals himself to be a serial pedophile. Fee and his friends are forced to bear grief, shame, and pain that endure long after the director is imprisoned. Fee survives even as his friends do not, but a deep-seated horror and dread accompany him through his self-destructive college days and after, until the day he meets a beautiful young student named Warden and is forced to confront the demons of his brutal past.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Saint Martin's Press Inc.; First edition (Nov 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312305036
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312305031
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,374,486 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Ingeniously Conceived Modern Myth 13 Nov 2002
Format:Paperback
Alexander Chee's first novel is the tale of a demon fox who is finally captured. Aphias Zee or Fee is an American of Korean and Scottish descent. In early age Fee's grandfather tells him the tale of Lady Tammamo, a fox who fell in love and, after being ridiculed by the community after her husband's death, engulfed herself and her husband's body in flames. He believes himself to be a fox in the shape of a man. Greek mythology informs his destiny as well, subtly setting the stage upon which the events of his life play. Yet, above the decorous theatre is a profoundly human story of Fee's experience growing up in Maine and, along with eleven other boys, suffering sexual abuse at the hands of a Boys Chorus instructor named Big Eric. Sex and suicide surround Fee through his entire adolescence and teenage years. He learns somehow to survive with the elements of creation and death orbiting him constantly, but it is an empty sort of existence for him. Passion is expended on lovers he doesn't care for. The guilt of his former instructor attaches itself to him as he discovers quickly that he is a homosexual himself. His natural desire is tragically intertwined with the other's perversity. His first love, Peter, becomes for him a distorted mirror image of all he is not: blonde, straight and freed by death. Thus, he embarks on an endless struggle to merge with this image, to fall into it, be devoured and emerge cleansed by flame. Despite surviving (barely) through college, making close friends and finding a lover, Bridely, who he marries in a commitment ceremony, Fee is unable to escape from his past and the conception of his own destiny militated by his demon fox spirit. He is paired finally with a spectre from the past and the mirror image he longed to meld into. Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Survivor's Story 2 April 2002
Format:Hardcover
'Edinburgh,' is an exceptional debut novel by Alexander Chee that tells the story of a gay Korean-American youth, Aphias Zhe, nicknamed Fee, who survives sexual abuse by his choir director, Big Eric Gorendt. Fee grows up in Cape Elizabeth, 'a town still half full of farms' near Portland, Maine, as part of a multi-generational family. He is twelve when the story begins, and he auditions for the Pine State Boys Choir and is selected along with another boy, Peter, who becomes his best friend and first love. Fee's story is told on many levels: 'This is a fox story,' Fee says. 'Of how a fox can be a boy. And so it is also the story of a fire.'
The reader learns of Peter's demise from the first sentence of the prologue: 'After he dies, missing Peter for me is like swimming in the cold spot of the lake: everyone else laughing in the warm water under too-close summer sun. This is the question that no one asks me.' From his Korean grandfather, whose six older sisters were taken away by the Japanese Imperial Army to become 'comfort women,' Fee hears the story of the shape-shifting fox-demon, whose imagery will reappear to him often over the years. Fire is a recurring theme in 'Edinburgh': it brings immolation, purification, and transcendence.
The title, 'Edinburgh,' comes from the city in Scotland, and it's also a painted fresco on the library ceiling of Fee's part-time employer, Edward Speck, an Oxford-educated historian. Speck is an elderly bachelor who employs young men as his assistants; his mentoring of them is respectful and non-predatory, unlike that of the married Big Eric. One day, Speck shows Fee an old letter from Edinburgh that was found in the spire of a cathedral; a man who was ravaged by the Black Plague had written it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Writing 11 Aug 2013
By E.Mai
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is so beautifully written. The beauty of the writing transcends the traumatic content without belittling it. The writing is delicate and profound. Sensual and sprinkled with myth and illumination. The book succeeds in retaining an aura of innocence in the midst of navigating the darker depths of experience.
Do not think it is going to be something like a fictional 'misery memoir'.This is the triumph of art over adversity.I am so looking forward to Chee's next book.If you like Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams you'll probably like this.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  32 reviews
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, sensitively told 6 Dec 2001
By Debbie Lee Wesselmann - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This beautifully written novel's subject matter will probably alienate some readers, but I urge you to read this entire review before deciding whether this book is for you.
Twelve year old Aphias Zhe, nicknamed Fee, has a crystalline soprano voice, and so when he auditions for a boys choir, he is immediately accepted. What Fee knows intuitively becomes concrete as the choir director, Big Eric, takes Fee and a few other boys on an outing in the woods: Big Eric is a pedophile who preys on the young boys' vulnerability. Where others cannot, Fee sees right through to the man and his preference for fair-headed boys like Fee's best friend, Peter. Fee, who is part Korean, part Scottish, is not a favorite; he watches mainly from a distance, knowing the danger Big Eric poses but unwilling to articulate it. He hopes that the false front Big Eric has constructed will never crumble for, if it does, Fee fears he will also be revealed for what he is. When the choir director is caught, the wake of his crime crushes his victims, even those who live to adulthood.
As Fee grows up, he appears to recover, but inside he wants to die. He is gay, not because of the choir director's crime but in spite of it. Fee wants love, tenderness, someone who can rival the affection he felt for Peter, and not the predatory sex Big Eric sought. Yet, Fee continues to be haunted by what happened. When as an adult he meets a blonde boy who reminds him of Peter and who, despite his young age, has a connection to what happened long ago, Fee must confront his demons.
While at times overly lyrical, the novel is a delicate coming-of-age story. Chee has a remarkable command of images and language which add rich layers to what could have been a simple plot. The emotion he infuses in his words makes Fee's pain and quest for love universal. If you think only gay men will enjoy this, think again. As a heterosexual woman, I found myself engrossed in this novel and its characters. Ultimately, EDINBURGH is about truth, self, and the yearning for a place in the world.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Ingeniously Conceived Modern Myth 30 Oct 2002
By Eric Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Alexander Chee's first novel is the tale of a demon fox who is finally captured. Aphias Zee or Fee is an American of Korean and Scottish descent. In early age Fee's grandfather tells him the tale of Lady Tammamo, a fox who fell in love and, after being ridiculed by the community after her husband's death, engulfed herself and her husband's body in flames. He believes himself to be a fox in the shape of a man. Greek mythology informs his destiny as well, subtly setting the stage upon which the events of his life play. Yet, above the decorous theatre is a profoundly human story of Fee's experience growing up in Maine and, along with eleven other boys, suffering sexual abuse at the hands of a Boys Chorus instructor named Big Eric. Sex and suicide surround Fee through his entire adolescence and teenage years. He learns somehow to survive with the elements of creation and death orbiting him constantly, but it is an empty sort of existence for him. Passion is expended on lovers he doesn't care for. The guilt of his former instructor attaches itself to him as he discovers quickly that he is a homosexual himself. His natural desire is tragically intertwined with the other's perversity. His first love, Peter, becomes for him a distorted mirror image of all he is not: blonde, straight and freed by death. Thus, he embarks on an endless struggle to merge with this image, to fall into it, be devoured and emerge cleansed by flame. Despite surviving (barely) through college, making close friends and finding a lover, Bridely, who he marries in a commitment ceremony, Fee is unable to escape from his past and the conception of his own destiny militated by his demon fox spirit. He is paired finally with a spectre from the past and the mirror image he longed to meld into.
The first most striking quality of Chee's unique prose style is his use of metaphor. With a lyrical intensity, the world is shaped by Fee's subjective understand of what surrounds him. Like the best of Eudora Welty's stories, the author uses metaphor to beautifully invoke experience with hyper-intensive feeling. The most emotionally unsettling moments of the book are captured with startling imagery. These moments not only convey the essential elements of the story, but also distort the world in a way to disturb and inspire your conscious interpretation of it. The understanding of desire and love are wildly twisted to unsettle and force you to think of the nature of their meaning. You are pushed to re-evaluate your own experience: "Do you remember what it was like, to be young? You do. Was there any innocence? No. Things were exactly what they looked like. If anyone tries for innocence, it's the adult, moving forward, forgetting." The structure of the novel impresses the need for these contemplations all the more. The first person, present tense of the narration impresses a sense of immediacy relevant for the dramatization of the characters' consciousness. Noticeably, the quotation marks of speech are experimentally removed letting the words uttered float freely in the air along with the sensitive impressions of the characters' thoughts. Yet, Chee's impressive expansion of the novels form does not delineate from the impact of the tale told. Although it is anything but a light read, it is still a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable novel. This is anything but a common coming of age story. The book is packed with intense, fully realised characters each of whom radiate a need to have their own stories told. The primary setting of Maine, so often an idyllic stage in fiction, is depicted as a troubled landscape, both turbulent and beautiful. It is interesting the final scene takes place in Cape Elizabeth's Fort Williams, an army fort well stocked in WWII that never witnessed the battles it was prepared to face. Now it is a popular park. The ruins left may speak more for the characters they surround than the characters speak for themselves. Sparkling with impressive imagery and powerful wisdom, Edinburgh is an incredible artistic accomplishment and a powerful debut.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Survivor's Story 5 Mar 2002
By Laure-Madeleine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
'Edinburgh,' is an exceptional debut novel by Alexander Chee that tells the story of a gay Korean-American youth, Aphias Zhe, nicknamed Fee, who survives sexual abuse by his choir director, Big Eric Gorendt. Fee grows up in Cape Elizabeth, 'a town still half full of farms' near Portland, Maine, as part of a multi-generational family. He is twelve when the story begins, and he auditions for the Pine State Boys Choir and is selected along with another boy, Peter, who becomes his best friend and first love. Fee's story is told on many levels: 'This is a fox story,' Fee says. 'Of how a fox can be a boy. And so it is also the story of a fire.'
The reader learns of Peter's demise from the first sentence of the prologue: 'After he dies, missing Peter for me is like swimming in the cold spot of the lake: everyone else laughing in the warm water under too-close summer sun. This is the question that no one asks me.' From his Korean grandfather, whose six older sisters were taken away by the Japanese Imperial Army to become 'comfort women,' Fee hears the story of the shape-shifting fox-demon, whose imagery will reappear to him often over the years. Fire is a recurring theme in 'Edinburgh': it brings immolation, purification, and transcendence.
The title, 'Edinburgh,' comes from the city in Scotland, and it's also a painted fresco on the library ceiling of Fee's part-time employer, Edward Speck, an Oxford-educated historian. Speck is an elderly bachelor who employs young men as his assistants; his mentoring of them is respectful and non-predatory, unlike that of the married Big Eric. One day, Speck shows Fee an old letter from Edinburgh that was found in the spire of a cathedral; it had been written by a man who was ravaged by the Black Plague. Much later, Fee builds a stone chapel on the private school campus where he teaches ceramics and coaches the swim team. These images reinforce the strong sense of transcendence that pervades Fee's story.
The narrative is sometimes choppy, sometimes lyrical, but always true, for Mr. Chee has written this compelling story with sensitivity and grace. Fee was afraid to tell, and he didn't want anyone else to tell. He garnered information on pedophilia from library books and newspaper articles. At home, he says about his family, 'I can see, they think I am still here. They can't see that I have a secret as big as me. A secret that replaces me.' The secret comes out when another boy tells, and Big Eric is arrested, then incarcerated in prison, along with his wife. Their infant son, Edward, goes to foster care, and then to his grandparents' house to live. About halfway through 'Edinburgh,' the point of view shifts from Fee to Warden, as Edward now likes to be called as a teenager. Warden is a student at the same school where Fee works, and after Warden becomes infatuated with him, Fee confronts demons from the past.
'Edinburgh' is a coming-of-age story that shows how someone can survive childhood abuse and devastating loss to emerge strong and secure. Alexander Chee is a gifted new author who writes with imagination and courage.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A difficult review to write 16 May 2002
By Simon Cross - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a wonderful, very intense novel, that left me quite stunned at the end of it, which is why this could be a difficult review to write.
Chee�s writing is not always the easiest to read, but it has great power and truth. He hauntingly conveys the horror of Fee�s situation both as it occurs, and the residual impact on the next twenty years of his life. Chee introduces characters sparingly, and nobody appears for no good reason.
This is not a light book, understandably, but if you have been interested enough by what you have read above to be reading this, then I recommend this novel to you. Go ahead and take the risk, Edinburgh will reward your efforts.
Finally, the above review from Publishers Weekly is incorrect, as it is not Fee who "embarks on a bizarre journey to find his identity, exploring his bisexuality while dabbling in drugs until he finally learns that his own absent father is also an imprisoned pedophile." It is another very important character that goes on that journey.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's NOT about Scotland! 1 Sep 2004
By Owen Keehnen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The title is just the very first of one of the many surprises encountered in this extremely well-written, impressive, and multi-layered novel. There are frequent passages which are so on target and gorgeously done that they gave me chills. I did a lot of rereading in parts. This is a novel that eludes simply categorization such as 'Coming Out' or 'Issue' novel. Give it a try. This seems the start of a very promising career for Chee. Can't wait to see what he does next!!!
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