Mona in the Promised Land
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Mona in the Promised Land

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3.46 of 5 stars 3.46  ·  rating details  ·  944 ratings  ·  88 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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Michael
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...more
Margaret
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
Catherine
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...more
Danielle
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...more
Stephany
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
Sherri
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...more
Christopher
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...more
Anna
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...more
Karyn

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

...more
Molly
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
Andriana Xenophontos
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 injustice...more
Mellen
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...more
Anna
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...more
Rebecca
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...more
Neil Crossan
Jun 14, 2012 Neil Crossan rated it 1 of 5 stars
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...more
Joanna
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...more
Timothy
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
Steve
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...more
sdw
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 f...more
Lily
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
Ariella
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 th...more
Erica
This book really grew on me--I had to get used to the prose, and then I started liking it and by the end I LOVED the whole dang thing. Jen has a knack for making her prose a bit poetic, a bit punny and yet always making the story move forward--a rare feat. I also liked that though the story was set in the late '60s, and dealt with race and identity beyond my white, upper class existence, there were so many truths, "ahas" and laugh out loud moments.
Houda
The book is witty and interesting, the dialogue is perfect, and the overall story is realistic, but the style of writing is just... strange. The whole time I thought I was listening to someone who could barely speak english, but knew some big words they read in a dictionary that they liked to throw in occasionally. I don't know why it sounded like that, or if it was on purpose, but it was too distracting for me to actually enjoy the book.
Micah
Apr 15, 2007 Micah rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: folks who enjoy immigrant or post-colonialist lit
I enjoyed this book for the novelty of its story rather than for its plot, which wasn't particularly arresting (there didn't seem to be a climax at all). Basically, this Chinese-American girl converts to Judaism to join a temple youth group and the story is mostly about her identity and the funny -- and not so funny -- situations she finds herself in. Worth a read, but not a fabulous piece of literature.
Grace
A smart and funny book written in a unique tone. Mona struggles with her identity and religious beliefs and meets many interesting people along the way. I enjoyed Jen's style and the continuity with her characters. The ending through me for a loop in a way I did not like but was interesting none the lesss. I recommend it to those who enjoy books about cultural identity who also want to laugh.
Gina
I read this for a book discussion group. Probably would not have chosen it on my own, and likely would not have read all the way through if not for the discussion group. I found it hard to get into, but once I reached the middle of the book it grew on me. It took some time to get a feel for the narrator's "voice", which is unique, but ultimately amusing. I'm glad I stuck with it.
Diane Kresh
Great little coming of age story set in 1960's Scarshill, NY (stand in for Scarsdale). Mona and her friends struggle with the usual stuff plus culture, class, assimilation and what it means to be yourself as added bonuses. The story is inventive, the dialogue witty. Funny, poignant, thoughtful, hopeful. A nice little read by the author of "Typical American", which I also recommend.
Laura
The book was an entertaining commentary on what it means to be American, Chinese, Jewish, and black. What it lacked was a plot that moved the book along. I would have liked more of a story.
Ryan Mishap
1968, an upperclass NY suburb: convergence of class, race in this funny novel. Mona, the daughter of Chinese immigrants who "made it", converts to Judaism--mainly for a boy-- much to her parent's dislike. Not political enough for the subject matter raised, and some of the characters got off too easy for their shitty behavior, I think, but then again, maybe that mirrors life.
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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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