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Mona in the Promised Land

3.49 of 5 stars 3.49  ·  rating details  ·  1,156 ratings  ·  100 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

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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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

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 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
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
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!
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
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
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 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
This was pretty corny, but it was also thoughtful, funny, and occasionally insightful. Three and a half stars.
Gloria Chen
Gish Jen/ Mona her character is hilarious!

(view spoiler)
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
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
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 Str ...more
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