Chang-rae Lee on His New Novel: ‘It’s Kind of a Crazy Book.’


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Chang-rae Lee’s new novel, “My Year Abroad,” is his sixth. On this week’s podcast, Lee says that his readers might be surprised by it.

“It’s kind of a crazy book, and particularly I think for people who know my work,” Lee says. “I’m sure my editor was surprised by what she got. I didn’t quite describe it the way it turned out.” The novel follows a New Jersey 20-year-old named Tiller, who is at loose ends, as he befriends a very successful Chinese entrepreneur. “They go traveling together,” Lee says. “They have what we might call business adventures, but those adventures get quite intense.”

Maurice Chammah visits the podcast to talk about his densely reported first book, “Let the Lord Sort Them,” which is a history, as the subtitle has it, of “the rise and fall of the death penalty.”

“One of the fascinating parts of researching this book was revisiting a time that I kind of dimly remembered when the death penalty had a role in the culture war pantheon, along with gun control and abortion,” Chammah says. “Starting around the year 2000, it feels like that was a high-water mark where something broke, and over the 20 years since, the death penalty has declined, both in the number of people who support it, but I think more importantly, in relevance. It’s less of a thing that people feel matters to their daily lives.”

Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth A. Harris has news from the publishing world; and Tina Jordan and John Williams talk about what people are reading. Pamela Paul is the host.

Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

The books of John le Carré

“Read Me” by Leo Benedictus

“Nine Perfect Strangers” by Liane Moriarty

“Dear Child” by Romy Hausmann

“Winterkeep” by Kristin Cashore

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