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July 16, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Lee, longtime editor of the literary journal ”Ploughshares,” has written an elegant and haunting debut. Like many good stories, it hinges on a taut plot and then widens in concentric circles to become a novel of ideas. When an American woman who has been working in Tokyo’s ”hostess” clubs disappears, an alienated policeman and an expat diplomat set out to find her. Shuttling between the formal society of Japan and its free-wheeling nightlife, Country of Origin concerns nationality and place, ultimately suggesting that even the most disenfranchised can find a sense of self.

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