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All That Work and Still No Boys

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  59 ratings  ·  17 reviews
How do we survive our family, stay bound to our community, and keep from losing ourselves? In "All That Work and Still No Boys", Kathryn Ma exposes the deepest fears and longings that we mask in family life and observes the long shadows cast by history and displacement. Here are ten stories that wound and satisfy in equal measure. Ma probes the immigrant experience, most p ...more
Paperback, 162 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by University Of Iowa Press
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In All That Work and Still No Boys, Kathryn Ma writes short stories with one thing in common: the Chinese American experience in California. This book is not for those who like conventional storytelling. Each chapter is the story of a person or family, sometimes related to another person or family in the book and sometimes not at all. The stories jump through time and space—sometimes told in first person and sometimes in third—but each chapter brings a refreshing and unique look at the way diffe ...more
I liked Kathryn Ma's first short story collection. Her characters are funny, charismatic, deeply flawed, contradictory and do practically illegal yet completely believable things; They remind me of my own immigrant family. There's the soft-spoken woman who, during a disagreement, pushes her son down the stairs. There's the two woman in the nursing home who could qualify as frenemies. There's the stubborn mother who wants to take a kidney from her daughters, but not from her son, whose kidney is ...more
The stories in this slim book center mostly around the intricacies of the family life and personal conflicts of Chinese-American immigrants, though a few of the characters featured have no clear markers of ethnicity. Many of the stories focus on fraught areas of gender relations and the relative value of "boys" and "girls" within family structures.

The title story focuses on a matriarch who needs a new kidney but refuses to allow her adult son (who has the best match for transplant) to donate, cl
This is one of the few literary works about the Asian American immigrant experience that I could not relate to even a little bit. Of all the sets of characters in all the various stories, I was unable to find a shared conflict or common perspective, in spite of being "off the boat" myself. The core issues that I should have identified with, being family, race, immigration... they were TOO specific to the particular characters to be relatable in a general ethnic sense. I was disappointed. Kathryn ...more
This excellent set of short stories focuses on Chinese-American women as main characters. BUT--in a few of the stories, this is not obvious in any way, shape, or form. Why? Because these girls are Americans, and live American lives. This is a nice change in the many, many stories/novels I have read, which sometimes neglect the fact that an immigrant's or a first-generation American's experiences will be quintessentially American in many ways. This also relates strongly to my own life, and my fat ...more
Sep 07, 2013 Paul rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
A lot of these stories have a sort of curated feel—they're very clean, almost hermetic, and they feel very magazine-y. This is definitely the sort of thing that gets published in the New Yorker, etc. Which isn't a criticism, I guess, but the stories I enjoyed most were the ones with a little humor, the looser ones, the ones with some voice—these had a little more soul to me. Being a white male I have a hard time relating to the immigrant experience, though that's probably my fault as a reader. O ...more
I've got a full review up on my blog.

Initial review:
I'll have a fuller review up soon, but for now I'll just say that I really liked it. It's not a good book to read if you only like linear, "traditional" stories, but if you like stepping outside of that box, I think you would enjoy it. More soon.
solid set of short stories about the chinese american experience. multiple characters of multiple ages, eras, regions. a few were too long/not as innovative. and some of the stories rang of the 'cultural divide/struggle' feel that tends to happen in asian-am genres. but overall i liked it and would recommend it as light+ reading.
These stories, while very short, were incredibly powerful. Each one seemed to encapsulate an idea about being an immigrant in America, which was expressed so subtly that you only realised it at the end of the story. The things and feelings left unsaid were as forceful as the writing, if not more so.
I guess these are fine - I liked the stories with older women as the protagonists, because that's really an under-represented demographic. Ma does a good job with aging. And I think the title story is quite good. But after a while the Iowa Writers Workshop of it all started to wear thin.
Beautiful stories that each give a slightly different angle to the Asian-American experience. I especially liked the title story, about a mother who needs a kidney transplant, and her four daughters and single son.
bought this book because i interned for a semester at the university of iowa press and remember the iowa short fiction award from my time there. there were some nice pieces in this book, but i found it overall uneven.
Jun 08, 2010 Daphne added it
a great debut story collection. Chinese-Americans (first generation and their children) navigating between tradition and change, West Coast and east, family ties and forging ahead.
Wonderful, rich, complex and different stories around the same theme. Kathryn Ma is a master of this genre in her description, characters, and diversity of themes. A must read!
From Recommended Books and Writers in the Spring 2010 issue of Ploughshares. Recommended by Laura van den Berg.
A solid collection of well-written and interesting short stories, many with Chinese immigrant themes.
Oct 16, 2009 Liz marked it as to-read
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Kathryn Ma was born and raised in Pennsylvania, part of a large extended family with roots in China and the U.S. She attended Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Kathryn is the author of the novel The Year She Left Us, coming from HarperCollins in May 2014. Her short story collection, All That Work and Still No Boys, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award and was named a San F
More about Kathryn Ma...
The Year She Left Us Days Like This: Good Writers on Bad Luck, Bum Deals, and Other Torments

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