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A NOVEL OKE & THE CULTU A Novelist in Full BY AZITA OSANLOO A Person of Interest By Susan Choi Viking 368 pages, $24.95 At the start of her career, Susan Choiwho is half-Korean, and whose first novel won the Asian-American Literary Award for fictioncould have comfortably ensconced herself among the literary elite of the multicultural arts world. But though Choi’s protagonists tend to be immigrants, their stories move beyond ethnicity, never quite relinquishing it while steadfastly inhabiting a dynamic present tense where their fates are determined more by action and less by the roots of their surnames. In an age in which Anglo writers remain the presumed default and the ethnic other is often defined as niche, the approach marks Choi, who grew up in Houston and now lives in New York City, as a fairly audacious novelist. Not to mention a smart one. Within the first three pages of Choi’s hypnotically absorbing new novel, A Person of Interest, a mail bomb blows up in the office of a brilliant young computer science professor. In the following days, FBI agents question Dr. Lee, the math professor who was sitting in his own office next door at the time of the explosion. Before the routine questioning begins, an agent engages in friendly small talk with Lee, inquiring whether the Asian-born professor knows a good sushi place in town: “Not to suggest you’re Japanese … You just seem like a man who knows how to eat well. Of course Lee’s not a Japanese name. Or is it one of the rare ones?” Lee evades the lightly veiled whereare-you-from query. He responds that “it’s impossible to get good sushi out here … We’re so far from the coast, and the local airport:’ For her part, Choi ignores the issue almost entirely. We get only meager clues. We know Lee emigrated to the United States from somewhere in the South Pacific in his 20s; we know he has experienced war; we know he spoke Japanese before he spoke English, a fact that doesn’t necessarily indicate he is Japanese, as Lee could have been born in any of several countries controlled by the Japanese empire before World War II. Choi’s decision to leave the specifics unspecified is neither coy nor even particularly rebellious. In the context of the novel itself, where simply doesn’t 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 18, 2008