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World and Town

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3.15  ·  Rating Details  ·  474 Ratings  ·  105 Reviews
After the deaths of her husband and her best friend, sixty-eight-year-old Hattie Kong moves to a small New England town and is soon joined by others looking to start anew. What Hattie makes of the situation lies at the center of this penetrating novel.
Audio, 10 pages
Published October 1st 2010 by Blackstone Audiobooks (first published January 1st 2010)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,173)
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Alex Templeton
Jan 19, 2011 Alex Templeton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Now why don’t books like this get attention as a Great, Sweeping American Novel of Our Time, a la Mr. Franzen’s “Freedom”? (I know, I know, it’s a whole new literary year, get over it. But, in my defense, this book was published in the same year, so I think it’s a fair question!) This novel is about the small-town community of Riverlake in the year of 2001. I don’t believe Riverdale is given a location in a particular state (I would imagine this is intentional?). Its main character is Hattie Kon ...more
Ron Charles
Nov 25, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a pleasure to read this smart, warm novel from Gish Jen. It's another in a small but growing collection of books about getting older -- not getting decrepit or sick or depressed, but just getting older, with all the perspective such maturity can endow. If you've already enjoyed Anne Tyler's "Digging to America" and Helen Simonson's "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand," you have some idea of the tenor of "World and Town." Jen's fourth novel manages, in its amiable, unhurried way, to consider the c ...more
Sarah
Aug 19, 2014 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the September book for my book club. I have to admit that wanted to stop reading early on, but as I was the leader for this book, I trudged on. While working through book, I suspected no one in my book club would finish this book. I was correct. The reason they quit was the reason I wanted to quit - the third person writing made the book had to follow.

We did have a discussion on some of the themes of the book: who/what is America/American; rebirth; what is your community; family, town,
...more
Jane
Dec 21, 2010 Jane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Washington Post reviewer liked this book better than I did. True, it's about an aging woman who struggles to find her own place in the world. True, it has a satisfying ending. True, it reveals the cultural diversity of our country.

The narrative voice for Hattie, the protagonist, worked for me, but the chapters which focused on Sophie, the Cambodian teenager, didn't. If Sophie or her siblings said "That's wack" one more time I was going to put the book aside, ever so gently.

Furthermore, Jen
...more
Kate
Jan 17, 2011 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are so many layers to this book and at the end, I almost found myself wishing it weren't a library book so I could highlight some of the dialog. The basic story is of a widowed half American, half Chinese woman living in what may be Vermont or New Hampshire. A family of Cambodian refugees sponsored by a local church moves into a trailer the church installs on some land next to her house. Hattie's involvement with members of the family, as well as with an old love who moves back to town, pr ...more
Janet
Jun 19, 2011 Janet rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I tried, I really did, but I found myself not paying attention-I kept reading the same sentence four or five times after letting myself get distracted from reading. I prefer books where the writing flows in one direction-this book is like reading a pinball machine, with thoughts, actions, and dialogue going off on tangents. I don't have the concentration needed to appreciate this book.
Elyse
Jun 16, 2014 Elyse rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow! This novel is deeply affecting. Demands some 'thinking'.

Hattie Kong is 68 years old. She's living alone in a New England mountain town with her 3 dogs, having lost her husband and best friend to Cancer.
She's a retired Biology teacher --and life feels somewhat empty. (yes, she takes walks with other woman in the town -- stays 'busy' with hobbies -- but its clear those inner lonely feelings way heavy).
And then...
A Cambodian family, (strange, distressed, & dysfunctional), moves just dow
...more
Diane
Apr 02, 2011 Diane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In World and Town, Gish Jen introduces us to Hattie Kong, a 68 year old retired Biology teacher who was born in China but came to America after the Communist takeover. Her father was a descendent of Confucius. After Hattie loses both her husband, and her best friend to cancer in a period of two years, she moves to the fictional Vermont town of Riverlake, where she lives in the mountains along with her three dogs. She has a small circle of walking friends, she paints, yet her days are still lonel ...more
Lauren
Dec 28, 2010 Lauren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Brenna, Sue R, Karen W, Amy R
The main character of World and Town is Hattie - a widow in her 70s who was born in China of a Chinese father and a missionary white mother and sent to the US to be raised by relatives when the communists took over China. Besides her husband, Hattie has lost her best friend to cancer and when a Cambodian family takes up residence in a neighboring trailer, she spends much of her time helping them. In addition, an old colleague (and lover) returns to the small town which further complicates Hattie ...more
Asma Fedosia
Jul 01, 2011 Asma Fedosia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This rambling story, as the title implies, covers diverse territory. Three religions (Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity), several ethnicities (Cambodian, Chinese, North American), as well as the separate worlds of the dead/living--all set in a remote New England town. The past seems unreconciled for many characters, as dead or absent relatives, spouses, and friends crop up in the thoughts and lives of those living. For all the past and present tragedy here, the novel manages to spiral upward ...more
Victoria Poon
The was a slow read. Wordy and must be read slowly to absorb. However, the themes of belonging and the various groups to which we belong to find meaning are interesting. Hattie seems to be displaced from country and culture. In the end it seems her not belonging was a decision in her own mind. When she opens herself to the mysteries of family religion, love and acceptance of the life around her - she finds the peace and belonging she has so long ago given up on.
Eli
Jun 19, 2015 Eli rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Took a little while to get into but worthwhile. Main character is Unitarian Universalist.
Harker US Library
Mar 26, 2015 Harker US Library rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gish Jen is a wittier Amy Tan: her novels and stories, usually told through the perspective of first- or second-generation Chinese immigrants to America, fearlessly tackle religious issues, the mystery of death, and the folly of American culture, all without forsaken the signature lightness and incisiveness of her prose. World and Town is split into five narrative sections. One follows Sophy Chung, the daughter of Cambodian immigrants, who takes refuge in fundamentalist Christianity to escape he ...more
Alice
Jul 14, 2015 Alice rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author's unhurried style coupled with my interest in the Cambodian family that figures so prominently in the story made me like this book a lot. The main character Hattie, being of "a certain age", is unusual in that she is not young, not ancient, but of that age when looking for your distance glasses is a major preoccupation. Hattie is rebounding from losing her husband and her best friend. The loss is palpable, as many asides in the story are directed to either of these two. I was fascinat ...more
Moira
Jul 12, 2011 Moira rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gorgeous, sophisticated writing about things that resonate particularly strongly with me. Gish Jen manages to touch on the major themes of our time - immigration, the Church, religious intolerance, addiction, gang violence, the environment, terrorism - in a narrative that never once feels forced or overstuffed. (Great reading, too, for a long vacation in an upstate New York town with a large population of summer residents.)
Sherri
Aug 01, 2014 Sherri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The novel opens with Hattie Kong a retired schoolteacher who's life has been interrupted by a family of Khmer Rouge refugees that have moved next door to her. Hattie watches them through binoculars and soon becomes concerned about them as they are poverty-stricken.

Hattie goes over to visit them and relatively quickly forges a relationship with the teenage daughter Sophy (pronounced So-pee). Sophy is sometimes reluctant to continue in the relationship with Hattie, but Hattie is adamant in her que
...more
Vtalland
May 06, 2011 Vtalland rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have read several books by Gish Jen, whom I admire very much. I am impressed how tremendously varied is her narrator's voice from one book to the next. This book is populated by people who seem often on the edge of credibility yet they are nonetheless familiar. I recommend it.
Alisa
Nov 07, 2011 Alisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
A quiet, reflective novel. Science, community, globalization, bitterness, pride and hubris. Love and relationships from a wide angle. I enjoyed it. The thing about this book that will stick with me the longest is the idea of one's own body as one's "life's companion."
Kathy
Nov 23, 2014 Kathy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: listened
This is kind of a long, narrative updating of "Our Town", with an immigrant twist and much contemplation of the role of religion/superstition in life and culture. As in the play, this book does not really have a plot--the characters' stories are kind of subplots--and it has grand ambitions. The use of vernacular in the telling of each story is in keeping, and is somewhat successful. I liked the characters, but found the book overlong. A pithier telling likely would have better achieved the grand ...more
Karen
Oct 26, 2010 Karen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The story line was good but there was a lot of extraneous information that did not add to the plot. I was disappointed in it.
Lorri Steinbacher
Great characters, but I had a hard time getting into the relationship of Carter and Hattie.
Elliot Ratzman
Apr 13, 2012 Elliot Ratzman rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: book clubs
Shelves: book-club
Set in a vaguely New England town around 2001, this novel centers around retired schoolteacher and Confucian descendent Hattie Kong and her attempt to heal the lives of her small-town neighbors. Her new neighbors are Cambodian, suffering from the trauma of genocide, gangs and culture shock. The daughter falls in with an Evangelical Church, the father with ghosts from the past and the son with violence. Clint Eastwood’s “get off my lawn” this is not, but rather a gentle drama of miscommunication ...more
Jo
Nov 03, 2013 Jo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the main character, Hattie. My first read of this author but I will remedy that quickly.

Romana Vysatova

In three previous novels and a book of short fiction, Gish Jen draped her characters’ troubles in a mood of antic good humor, then gradually allowed those troubles to reveal themselves. In “Typical American,” readers came to understand, through Jen’s adroit storytelling, the disappointments beneath the resilience of the Chinese immigrants Ralph and Helen Chang; in “Mona in the Promised
...more
K. Lincoln
Feb 23, 2011 K. Lincoln rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hattie Kong, a half-american, half-chinese retired teacher in a small Vermont town, has just lost her husband and best friend to cancer.

She's adrift in her own life, hearing the voices of her loved ones, and then bang, a Cambodian refugee family moves into a trailer next door and an Evangelical Friend leaves her husband of 37 years.

These two, seemingly unrelated events, set off a series of encounters between various members of the Cambodian Family and the inhabitants of the town, revealing race
...more
Marvin
May 27, 2012 Marvin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
This rich novel deserves, I fear, a better reader than me. Set apparently somewhere in the American Northwest, it's the story of a retired laboratory scientist/schoolteacher's encounter with a Cambodian immigrant family, particularly the troubled teenaged daughter, who is torn between our heroine's tender, open care and the proselytizing fervor of a woman who gets her involved in an evangelical church. There are a number of rich side stories as well (including the renewal of our heroine's troubl ...more
Devon
Oct 28, 2012 Devon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was very disappointed when I was assigned this book for one of my English classes because it's almost 500 pages long. I thought there would be no way I'd finish it in two weeks, on top of my other school work, but it flew by. I've read some of Gish Jen's short stories and liked them, but World And Town was my favorite work of hers that I've read so far. By the time I finished the book, I was thinking that it could have used another 100 pages or so to really satisfy me with the ending of the jo ...more
Mintzis
Sep 15, 2013 Mintzis rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Gish gen captures the American Asian experience, but there are too many side stories to make the experience cohesive. The book starts with Hattie Kong, an aging Chinese American, with her issues of belonging and underlying issues of a woman aging. When the Cambodians move next door, another far eastern experience comes center stage. The book is further muddied by an ongoing conversation hattie has with relatives in hong kong about moving her parents' (one chinese, one american) bones to china to ...more
Carola
Jan 30, 2015 Carola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Carola by: Jan Merrill
It took me a while to get used to the narrator's voice changing to show the perspective of different characters (especially the "teen-speak"), but about a third of the way through this book I started to like it more and more. There is so much material for so many discussions in here. I particularly like the running theme of spirituality. Gish Jen portrays the characters different religious beliefs with the complexity that makes them seem real. Another well-drawn picture is the relationship betwe ...more
Michelle
Mar 21, 2011 Michelle rated it it was ok
Recommended to Michelle by: bookmarks magazine
Shelves: 2011
This book was a good story. I listened to an audio version. The story was of the day to day happenings of a middle aged Chinese widow, her Cambodian refuge neighbors, and the return of her first love to the small town in which she lives.

The story was interesting and kept my attention for the most part, but there were some boring inter-reflections of a couple of the characters that seemed tedius.

I did LOL on several occassions.

One problem I had was with the production of the audio. I don't know
...more
West Hartford Public Library Hartford
What a wonderful story of community and what it means to belong. Hattie Kong,a Chinese- American woman, recently retired from teaching and even more recently widowed, finds herself engaged with her new neighbors, immigrants from Cambodia. In helping them adjust to their new home, she comes to terms with her own past, her loves, her losses and her sense of identity.
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Gish Jen grew up in New York, where she spoke more Yiddish than Chinese. She has been featured in a PBS American Masters program on the American novel. Her distinctions also include a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Fulbright fellowship, and a Radcliffe Institute fellowship. She was awarded a Lannan Literary Prize in 1999 and received a Harold and Mildred Str ...more
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