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Mona in the Promised Land

3.48  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,247 Ratings  ·  109 Reviews
The heroine of Mona in the Promised Land is a true child of the suburbs. Mona--a self-described "self-made mouth" goes to temple, loves pickles, is boy-crazy, worries about getting into the right college and keeping up with her over-achieving sister, and wishes her parents were less strict. Her equally Jewish Westchester classmates hardly notice what everyone else finds ha ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 1st 1997 by Vintage (first published 1996)
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80th out of 206 books — 188 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,391)
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May 25, 2007 Pamela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant prose.
Jan 28, 2014 S. rated it it was amazing
Gish Jen is pretty good compared to the other "Chinese-" and or "Chinese" (hyphenated implying china diaspora) writers in that she sort of resembles a gushy optimistic reese witherspoon blonde who just happens to be writing about the Chinese-American experience whereas Amy Tan and some other Chinese writers are writing distinctly in the Chinese aesthetic sensibility.

I double-lucky wind jade song having experienced famine, rape, prosperity, betrayal and adultery now have all the answers to life
Apr 30, 2008 Rebecca rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book. First, I liked some of Jen's short stories, and it would be great to find more Chinese American authors.

But the writing struck me as awkward and distant, and partially because of this, the characters weren't real for me. They seem to be moving around in a little bubble, without motivations, in a world where coincidence is a little too convenient. The main character decides to convert to Judaism to fit in with all of her Jewish friends --fine, but her feelings
Aug 06, 2011 Margaret added it
Shelves: 2008
I have mixed feelings about this book. It started out slowly and took a while to get my attention. Although I found it interesting it seems like it was not always about Mona and the cultural differences on being a Chinese-American or becoming Jewish but sometimes was more of a statement on society in America in the 70's with sub-threads touching on racism and black power. I agree with msjoanna in that the ending was not well thought out and it seemed like the author said, "Well, I guess I bette ...more
Jul 31, 2008 Catherine rated it really liked it
I love Gish Jen. She is my new favorite writer. Not because she's perfect, but because she is so funny and she creates such believable characters and she paces her books (the two I've read, at least) so well. Her books are fun to read, but also really thought-provoking. She makes you think about what it means to be American, to be part of a melting pot/stew, to be able to choose your own identity.

Mona is a Chinese American teenager in 1970 (or so) who decides to convert to Judaism. Her parents
Priscilla Herrington
Mona in the Promised Land is most definitely a 21st century American novel, by Gish Jen; daughter of Chinese immigrants, Jen was born and grew up in the New York City area.

Like the author, Mona is the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and one of the themes of the book is Mona's desire to be American, and her parents desire to raise her as a proper Chinese daughter. They live in an upper middle class suburb of New York, where Mona is the only Chinese person in her school. There is a Japanese boy w
May 09, 2016 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 15, 2015 Cat rated it liked it
Jen is very funny and has a rich sense of character, but this novel felt a little thin and repetitive (or baggy?) to me. Her brand of witty realism supports the intimate and strained relationships between and within the two centers of Mona's world: her group of teenage friends and her Chinese-American family, but once the plot expands beyond that circle (intersecting, for example, with the social life of black chef Alfred from her parents' restaurant), it feels like it is trying to be weightier ...more
Writings about the immigrant experience (not only in America but predominantly) fall into two different groups: the struggle to maintain the traditions of the homeland in the face of an overwhelming new culture and the struggle to assimilate while remaining true to one's own heritage. The former is a common theme in Chinese-American writings from Ha Jin's A Good Fall to Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club, both these books show the struggle Chinese-Americans face regarding the juxtaposition between homeland ...more
Although this book features a teenaged protagonist, is does not read like a young adult novel. This story explores race, identity, family, love, sex, and civil rights in 1968-1972 Scarshill, New York, through the eyes of Mona, a second generation Chinese-American younger daughter.

The story wandered at times for me as Mona interacts with a various cast of different races and social statuses. First, a Japanese classmate, then (rich and not rich) Jewish friends, then black coworkers and her older s
Apr 16, 2009 Stephany rated it it was amazing
I couldn't stop thinking about Skokie, IL while reading this. Gish Jen is a keen observer of language, and absolutely nails the language of Mona's parents (hardworking Chinese immigrant family the Changs) and Mona (think Margaret Cho on her mother, but converted to Judaism) who grows up more Jewish than Chinese (because of the move to "the good school system"), and the black power cooks at the Pancake House the Changs own (the book is set in the 1960s). If you're familiar with upstate New York; ...more
Jun 24, 2012 Sherri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mona is a young Chinese girl who lives in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. As she begins hanging around with Jewish friends, she also begins to go to Temple and participate in the holy days. She soon decides to convert to Judaism, which when her parents find out, it upsets them greatly. Mona tries to explain that she can be Chinese and Jewish at the same time, but her mother is unconvinced of this fact.

Meanwhile, she and her friend Barbara are busy getting into all kinds of trouble as teenag
Aug 01, 2012 Christopher rated it did not like it
Spoiler alert.

While this book's characters and plot are politically correct enough to send even the most multi-culti among us into a frenzy of self-congratulation, Jen relies too heavily on the PC to carry her work. The most grating thing about the novel comes at the very end, when Jen's deus ex machina--inaction--ends up saving Mona from having to make a decision about her future. With Mona unsure about whether to marry someone, the narrative skips ahead a few years until she and this man find
Jan 12, 2009 Anna rated it it was ok
Mona is a Chinese-American living in the '70's who moves with her family to a Jewish suburb. The book focuses on her teenage years, especially the inner-turbulations of ethnicity and self-identity that consume her, being the only Asian in a school full of white Jewish kids. While growing up, Mona decides to convert to Judaism, although I didn't understand why. To fit in at school? To identify herself with a culture she liked more? To rebel against her parents? I wasn't too sure.

The prose was ce
Jun 02, 2012 Karyn rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels

This novel follows Mona, the youngest child of Ralph and Helen in Jen's previous novel Typical American. I'd loved Typical American for how fast-paced, dense, and vivid it was. Mona in the Promised Land is good, but not as great. Perhaps because it follows Mona from grade through college--years of searching and of growth, and always rife with conflict, sure, but also years when you tend to want to smack a person upside the head ("Oh, to have a crisis with Seth Mandel! It seems so awfully glamoro

Jan 12, 2016 Libriar rated it liked it
I read this book when it first came out 20 years ago and loved it. I recommended it for a book club that I am in so I recently reread it. Definitely not as good as I remember it. The bones of the story are good but the writing itself seemed stilted to me and it didn't flow very well because of that. I remember laughing a lot when I read it the first time but this time I felt more sadness for some of the things that Mona was experiencing. I guess I'm more jaded and understand things differently n ...more
Jan 27, 2009 Molly is currently reading it
Shelves: asian-american
I found this book very difficult to stay engaged in. Like American Born Chinese, it also dealt with an American born Chinese character struggling with self identity. However, in this book, Mona, the main character is a girl and seems to have much less individuality. She gets very quickly caught up in fitting in even if it means lying. The author, Gish Jen's writing very much conveys this desperation to to fit in. Often, Jen's writing itself seemed to be verging on what I considered to be miss us ...more
Jan 19, 2012 Mellen rated it really liked it
By an Asian writer, this novel is from the point of view of the American daughter of Chinese immigrants. The story starts in 1968 when the main character is 13 and meanders along till both she and her sister are adults with children, however the bulk of the story takes place during her junior and senior years of high school.

The main plot serves as a frame for interactions with a large number of minor characters of many races and cultures in comfortable and uncomfortable environments. The author
Jan 18, 2015 Claire rated it it was amazing
I really loved this coming of age novel about a Chinese American teenager struggling to express her individuality in a tight knit family. The late 1960s setting rang true from personal experience. The emotional depth of adolescence was palpable and the intellect of the heroine shines through on every page. A novel indicative of the success achieved by an acclaimed writer!
Andrea Wang
Feb 01, 2016 Andrea Wang rated it it was amazing
Funny, raw, and unapologetic exploration of cultural identity through Mona, the youngest daughter of an immigrant Chinese family. The novel is set in the late 60's, but its themes remain acutely relevant today. It took me a couple chapters to warm up to the percussiveness of Gish Jen's prose, but I grew to love it! Adding this book to my list of favorites. :)
Nov 04, 2012 Anna rated it really liked it
A smart, fresh take on identity in multicultural America. Gish Jen takes all our notions about race, ethnicity, religion, and national identity and turns them on its head.

The character through which she examines these themes — Mona Chang, a Chinese American who converts to Judaism — is funny, smart, and achingly real, as she tries to square her identity in a rapidly changing time.

I think this book was once described as a comedy of manners. It truly is — the style reminds me of a wickedly moder
Jun 20, 2014 Julia rated it really liked it
I really liked this book! Her writing is fantastic and characters are great. this book contained some of the best writing I've read in a very long time. And it was a whole lot of fun! One complaint: it's too long. I wasn't able to identify any central narrative arc, which meant that it kind of felt like it just went on and on. I got a little bored about half way through, though when I did finally get to the ending I liked it.
Neil Crossan
Jun 14, 2012 Neil Crossan rated it did not like it
Recommended to Neil by: SF Book Club
I’ve been in my book club for about 2 years and in those two years 85 year old Armenian Mary hasn’t said anything bad about a book. In fact she hasn’t said anything negative except about the Armenian Massacre. So when she said the following about this book I knew we had found something special (in a negative way) …

“It was very wordy. As I started to read a paragraph I figured it had to go somewhere and then I’d get to the end of the paragraph and Nope. Nothing.”

I read to page 223 and I don’t kno
Feb 05, 2010 Joanna rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book quite a bit, though it took me a while to get into it. I thought the writing, up until the last 20-30 pages, was terrific. The book suffered from the problem of so many books -- the author didn't seem to know how to get off stage. The epilogue seemed completely out of place in this book. That said, the entire project is an admirable effort to address big issues of identity and life and race with real and unique and exasperating, imperfect characters.

I'll be on the lookout fo
Mar 09, 2016 Joeydag rated it really liked it
I think I have enjoyed several novels by Jen - the family business - Chinese Restaurant resonates with me because my family had a small diner. The main character has an amusing voice. I wish I remembered more.
Sep 24, 2014 Hubert rated it liked it
Coming of age story of a young Chinese-American girl, Mona, who converts to Judaism, discovers some tender lessons about love and adolescence with friends, and encounters some confrontational episodes with racial tension and sexual violence. The story isn't so much driven as it is commented upon. Mona's sister Callie provides a typical foil against which the protagonist must situate her own life and relations with family. The big tense moment that occurs that concludes the end of the novel ((vie ...more
Susan Ariew
Jun 22, 2014 Susan Ariew rated it really liked it
I loved Mona's character, her complicated relationship with her Chinese mother, and her entanglements with her Jewish friends, boyfriends, the Black community, and the Jewish religion. Mona's story nicely captures the conflicts between first generation immigrants and their American offspring.
Jan 21, 2016 Katewood16 rated it really liked it
A fun read with a spitfire and very believable protagonist. The book adds wit and humor to immigrant literature, and only fails a five-star rating because the ending felt forced and compressed.
Dec 18, 2008 Timothy rated it liked it
Novel written from the perspective of a child of first generation immigrant, set in the 1960's and early 1970's High School world. Besides being fun reading, it is both American and stands back from being American, both Chinese and stands back from being Chinese, both Jewish and stands back from being Jewish. Really a story about defining identity in a multi-cultural society--and the reality that in USA one chooses one's identity even while one's identity is shaped by one's family and by the soc ...more
The little girls from Typical American as teenagers. Fun to read and I enjoyed the writing, but overall not as good as TA. 3.5 stars.
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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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“If you ask her, I’ll kill you,” says Callie pleasantly. And so it is that when Naomi and Mona are introduced—really, reintroduced—Mona prepares to ask her immediately.” 1 likes
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