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This eagerly awaited follow-up to Fae Myenne Ng's first novel, Bone, again addresses the issues of Chinese-American identity in this moving, unflinching yet sometimes witty story. Jack Moon Szeto enters San Francisco in 1952, falsely posing as the son of Yi-Tung "Gold" Szeto, a registered U.S. citizen. In return, Jack must pay Szeto by working for two years and marrying a "fake wife." Employed as a butcher, Jack takes the younger Joice Qwan as his lover. Even though she becomes pregnant, Joice refuses to marry Jack. Despondent, Jack attempts to nullify his contract with Szeto before entering the INS's Chinese Confession Program and renouncing his false identity, resulting in Szeto's deportation, but not citizenship for Jack. Toward the end, the story shifts to Jack's congenial relationship with his spirited daughter Veda, whose growing mission is to protect Jack by making him a naturalized U.S. citizen. Ng's simple, sturdy yet poetic prose is juxtaposed against the clinical language of Jack's immigration documents; the result is a nuanced portrayal of two generations and the many challenges they face in their quest for security and fulfillment.
Publishers Weekly May, 2008
This remarkable first novel chronicles a believable journey through pain to healing, exposing the emotional scars--the bleeding hearts and aching kinship bones--of its characters as they try to survive. The Leong family, based in San Francisco's Chinatown, includes three daughters: educator/community-relations specialist Leila, the narrator; restaurant hostess Ona, whose troubled life ends tragically in early adulthood; and Nina, who eventually takes off for New York, where she works as a flight attendant. Heading the clan (in an idiosyncratic, maddening fashion) are mother Mah, a seamstress who owns a baby clothing store, and father Leon, a merchant seaman who lives apart from his wife in an SRO-type hotel, keeping his "Going-Back-to-China Money'' in a brown bag. Ng summons a quiet urgency from simple language, both in her physical descriptions (such as that of the office of the Hoy Sun Ning Yung Benevolent Association) and in her depictions of the characters' seesawing thoughts and feelings as they move between the Chinese- and English-speaking cultures. She ventures outside the Leong household less often than one might wish, but she lucidly renders those secondary characters, notably Leila's beau, Mason Louie, a mechanic who strives to understand and embrace her relatives but also hopes to convince her to establish a separate family with him. Ng reveals his insight into Leila's moodiness thus: "He says my anger is like flooding--too much gas, killing the engine.'' With such brilliant details, and in the larger picture of how death and life inform one another, this writer makes a stunning debut.
Publishers Weekly, January 1993