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Mona in the Promised Land

3.48  ·  Rating Details ·  1,291 Ratings  ·  113 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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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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May 25, 2007 Pamela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant prose.
Aug 10, 2016 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 ...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
Anne Pak
Nov 23, 2016 Anne Pak rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this, I tried so hard. I just couldn't connect, seemed very disjointed and random. I will give one of Jen's other books a try.
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

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
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
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
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
Bonajean McAneney
Sep 09, 2016 Bonajean McAneney rated it really liked it
In the beginning I felt as if I were reading something badly edited. Then I thought maybe I was missing something, then, sweet clarity. All this because of the phrase "not to say" which is use in this book the way Mario Batali uses salt, not to say, liberally.

You can, and will, get past this. It is a part of the culture of the book and necessary, you will see in the end.

Being a part of neither the Jewish nor the Asian community, both of which is, on the surface of it, the major theme of the boo
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
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
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 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
Becki Basley
May 09, 2016 Becki Basley rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 ...more
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
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
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
Dec 08, 2008 Steve rated it it was ok
last book in the LMU book series on :neighbors".
I as more ambivalent toward it than most members in the discussion. Most felt it was shallow and more of a young adult selection. We did discuss the ability to switch and the need in some people to switch "jobs.... religion..... cities....etc.". To me, Mona's affectation of the syntax of a Jewish immigrant was at times cute and , at times, frustrating. The premise of Mona as a 13 year old Asian American decided to become a Jewish Asian American, a
Jan 03, 2009 sdw rated it did not like it
I was disappointed by this book. More accurately, I was bored to death by this book. I might have liked it at 13. It struck me as young adult fiction. Mona Chang, Asian American youth, moves with her family in the late 1960s to a Jewish suburb. She converts to judiasm, has love trials and tribulations that the book jacket compares to a Jane Austen novel, amidst what is supposed to be an multi-ethnic neighborhood living through the changing racial and ethnic awarnesses of the 1960s and 1970s. I ...more
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 ...more
I absolutely loved this book. Mona is so charming and witty yet she tackles such significant and powerful issues of racial fluidity an identity. All of the characters appear genuinely good and many possess naivety when concerning how other experience and interpret race. It is an easy read and definitely enjoyable, I would definitely recommend as a book to help consider race because although the book is extremely entertaining and humorous, simply reading the book as a comedy would be an ...more
Mona in the Promise Land is promising but not all the way there. I feel in Gish Jen's portrayal of a teenager, the main character Mona becomes very much a stereotypical young woman. Obsessed with having a boy friend, fitting in, and being "cool." Though I thought there were some very humorous moments and great cultural contrasts and attention to similarities I was not wowed. Being a teenage girl, I felt Mona was very shallow and had trouble connecting with her. I give Gish Jen allot of credit ...more
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 ...more
May 30, 2013 Lily rated it did not like it
And this book had so much promise! Late sixties coming of age novel, the immigrant experience, theorizing religion especially Judaism...but no. This book sucked. It was like the poor man's Judy Blume. I hated the subplot with Seth and his precocious free love, and he subplot with the black waitstaff at the restaurant. Come to think of it, what was the main plot? This book felt like a very disjointed, and honestly a bit anachronistic, and even more honestly a bit of a racist account of a Chinese ...more
Aug 13, 2015 Elaine rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
When I first read this book some 15 years ago, I really liked it because I could relate to the protagonist. I would've given it 4 or 5 stars.
Now, I _dislike_ the book because it sets up one scenario after another in which the protagonist (with whom I can still relate, though not to the same extent as before) fumbles as she deals with the various dramas of her life. Maybe what I'm really saying is that I actually don't relate to her much at all -- and that I didn't find her to be particularly cle
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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 ...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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