Last summer I had the wonderful chance to hear Deanna Fei read from her debut novel A Thread of Sky, about Chinese American women traveling to China.Last summer I had the wonderful chance to hear Deanna Fei read from her debut novel A Thread of Sky, about Chinese American women traveling to China.
This summer, I came across Ann Mah's Kitchen Chinese.
Something interesting: Both Fei and Mah published their respective novels in 2010 and wrote as they were living in Beijing. Yet Fei's is a contemporary fiction offering, while Mah's is straight-up chic lit. After several pages of cliches and cheesy writing that made it feel like CHEETAH GIRLS 2/EAT PRAY LOVE Asian-American style, I decided to go with the flow.
AND GOT HOOKEDDDDD
I loved how the narrative was arranged by region/food and included Taiwan and Hong Kong. I GOT SO HUNGRY WITH THE FOOD DESCRIPTIONS! And thought that Jeff Zhu the Mandopop star and love interest was hilarious. I enjoyed being immersed in the Beijing expat community. (If anybody is interested in that, Kaiser Kuo (Ich in Ein Beijinger), like Ann Mah, worked at the expat magazine the Beijinger!) It was super fascinating to have that world fleshed out in fiction, and despite the frame of cliches, it was creative and entertaining.
It also made me happy to be able to identify with many of Isabelle's experiences as an ABC in China; like Iz, I will never forget how accomplished and cool I felt when the taxi driver didn't ask, "Where are you from?"/"Ni shi na guo ren?" for the first time!
Sometimes we all need to read a cutesy, alternately lame and funny romantic comedy, and if you are in the mood for one of those (along with some Chinese food and healthy culture clash), then I would definitely recommend KITCHEN CHINESE. It made me smile a lot.
Notes: There were like 2 pinyin errors and some other minor typos--step it up, HarperCollins!
Many of the opening chapters quoted from Swallowing Clouds by A. Zee, which I now also want to find~...more
Amy Chua is srsly doing a disservice to Asians, Asian Americans, and the entire Asian diaspora, not to mention everyone in the whole world and the thiAmy Chua is srsly doing a disservice to Asians, Asian Americans, and the entire Asian diaspora, not to mention everyone in the whole world and the thing that is cross-cultural understanding....more
Wow. Gish Jen certainly does not give the Chinese immigrant experience a typical treatment. Her story just gets more and more outrageous as it goes onWow. Gish Jen certainly does not give the Chinese immigrant experience a typical treatment. Her story just gets more and more outrageous as it goes on; I was like, "WTFrankfurters" the whole time. Ralph, who at the beginning is naive and endearing, towards the end becomes such a comical character that we become very distanced from him (or at least, that was how I felt). It was amusing and apalling (mostly appalling), especially the antagonist Grover. I knew he was coming back. Booo.
Having said this, I think that Gish Jen's is a really successful satire: absurd, insightful, uncomfortable, & infuriating, with lots of commentary that we receive not through any particular lines of the novel, but through its narrative. The pursuit of the American dream by Ralph, Theresa, & Helen yields both success and disaster. And even though a lot of strange things happen in the plot, it is still the experience: trying to hold onto family, reluctantly borrowing from American tradition and eventually making it as much a part of their lives as the Chinese, developing Chinglish and deciding how to raise children. I like how Ralph, Theresa, and Helen at many points are the “typical Americans” that they had looked down upon when they first came. All of the supposed "typical American" things seem to be more “typical human” as the characters find themselves becoming them.
Overall, this was a very interesting reading experience. I can't say that I liked it, but it was undoubtedly good. I am thinking about picking up Mona in the Promised Land to see how Gish Jen deals with her second-generation Chinese-Americans (that's me! haha). And a young Chinese girl converting to Judaism intrigues me quite a lot....more