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Steer Toward Rock

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  162 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
"The woman I loved wasn't in love with me; the woman I married wasn't a wife to me. Ilin Cheung was my wife on paper. In deed, she belonged to Yi-Tung Szeto. In debt, I also belonged to him. He was my father, paper too."Steer Toward Rock, Fae Myenne Ng's heartbreaking novel of unrequited love, tells the story of the only bachelor butcher at the Universal Market in San Fran ...more
Hardcover, 255 pages
Published May 1st 2008 by Hachette Books
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Rating details
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Liz Janet
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The immigrant experience, race, social class, identity. Yep, all themes deeply explored here, just simply how the "other" is rationalized and seen, and how people were seen during the "red scare." It is about the quota put on Chinese immigration, and how the past will probably repeat itself. However it is more about family, and how a child's identity can be shaped when a parent refuses to share their story with their children.
This book is just about too many things for me to pin-point them all,
Sep 14, 2008 rated it it was ok
Woa. I feel so bad not liking this book. I loved Bone, Ng's last book. It was written 15 years ago, I read it maybe 4 years back and just loved it. It was so well written, such a strong voice. Really strong. Such a different San Francisco than Maupin or Tan described. Just really good. In fact, if you haven't read Bone, go read it now.

And it's not like "Steer Toward Rock" was written badly. Its structure was interesting and its subject matter certainly worthy of anyone's time. But it just didn't
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Its a wonderfully written book about Chinese immigrants in America in the 60s.
The writing is lyrical, the story poignant and quirky about family and sacrifice. Loved it.
Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
Wanted to like this book, as it takes on an interesting aspect of us history - paper families and chinese immigration policies of the u.s. The language that some may deem poetic and metaphorical (and i do love my metaphors!) kept me from entering fully into the story and feeling for the characters or getting an idea really of who these characters were. Dates are a little unclear even though it's relatively easy to figure out from who is speaking but then dialogue from the younger generation beca ...more
Feb 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Ng orchestrates a complex, multi-voiced narrative about family, immigration, and culture, centered around a Chinese-American family in San Francisco during the last half of the Twentieth Century. The novel tells of the participation of one immigrant, Jack Moon Chen, in the confession program – a government program to encourage illegal immigrants to confess to their illegal status as well as the illegal status of others. It also tells the story of Chen's family, beginning with narration by Chen, ...more
Mar 09, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009, rooster
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I actually did. It started out really strong - how could it not, with an opening line like “The woman I loved wasn’t in love with me; the woman I married wasn’t a wife to me.”

This had all the trappings of one of Zhang Yimou's mid-90's melodramas: star-crossed lovers, literary pretensions, a little bit of criminal intrigue as befits the 1960's San Francisco underworld. But it abandoned that about a third of the way through and switched to a macro-time m
May 28, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up
I learned a lot about immigration scams and bad people and trapped people. I think it was at about page 70 when I decided that I didn't like anyone enough to continue reading. As reviewer Jans said, It is difficult to get a pulse on any of the characters. Jans also said, "
Ng is a talented writer, but this plot fails to come to life."
Jennifer Lizcano
Jun 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
No one writes of Chinese San Francisco as nakedly as Fae Myenne Ng. The sorrow present in this story is of trampled hope, lost life, lost lives, revenge, and the many faces of love.

It is a book to be read in sips...savoring Ng's poetry before dashing into the next mini-chapter allowed me mentally back on a bus hurtling down Geary to look at now-elderly immigrants with respect and awe anew.
Dec 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: literature
A lukewarm novel about Chinese immigrants and the Confession Program. Primarily told from one point of view until the end, the story didn't grab me and pull me in the same way Ng's debut novel, BONE, did.
Feb 10, 2009 rated it liked it
learned about the illegal alien in SF Chinatown(1950's),a universal immigrant story.
Prathayini Viknes
May 02, 2018 rated it liked it
The first 50pages were interesting and after that I felt the storyline..plot somehow very boring and long winded. I had to practically force myself to continue for another 70pages or so.Eventually ,I just gave up and stopped reading the book. The novel revolves around an Asian immigrant life in The western world and the trials and tribulations he has to overcome in a foreign land.It also studies the different phases in multifaced relationships across about 20years or so.Overall,it was a simple s ...more
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The jacket for this book has mega-praise on the back from highly regarded authors. Given that, I would have expected a more moving and poigniant novel. It was ok, even somewhat interesting at times, but never stood out much and I didn't really connect with it.

It touches on some interesting themes and perspectives of the first and second generation immigrant experience, but it remains just a little too aloof to really dig into those themes.

Michael Hollingworth
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recommended
Steer Toward Rock was written in a very poetic and beautiful style. It tells the story of a paper son living in America, and the trials that he had to undergo. It is a story of love, romantically unrequited, and familial. An artistic depiction of American-Chinese culture, it lacked only in the ending, which was somewhat disjointed and unsatisfying. All in all a good read.
Frau Ott
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 17, 2009 rated it it was ok
"Trust Rock...Break fear upon rock........Go toward fear. Trust fear. Steer toward rock."

These are the words Jack Moon Szeto's Chinese mother taught him before he left China as an indentured servant to a Chinese man living illegally in San Francisco. Jack enters San Francisco in 1952, dishonestly claiming to be the son of Yi-Tung aka Gold Szeto, an illegally registered U.S. citizen and a criminal. Jack must pay Szeto by working for two years and marrying a stranger. Employed as a butcher, Jack i
Mar 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, tob2009, tob
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was her long-awaited 2nd book and if you haven't read her, go get Bone, if you can find it, immediately. It wrapped me into its pathos immediately. This book is more cerebral but in some ways addresses similar themes. It shows how patriarchy, class, and the interference of the state destroy family and romantic love. At the same time that the character feel their losses deeply, they form meaningful relationships with people who are not family or the one they wanted. Her style is as gorgeous ...more
Mar 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
(more to come)

A few of my favorite quotes:

The night was still. She stood so close, I felt her liquid warmth.

I’m not in love, she said. What did she mean? I had no idea. I understood love to be a shared fate, a feeling grown from seed, a flower eternally beautiful. I had no idea what she meant. When she talked about being surrendered in feeling, it sounded as unpleasant as being in a wind canyon. So I got up and walked to the last bench and kicked at it till it knocked over. Then I just stood the
Aug 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
I used this book, Ng's second novel, for my sabbatical project which investigates the role place plays in selected literature set in California. Ng brought me into San Francisco Chinatown with a whole new set of eyes. She also taught me so much about the Chinese Exclusion Act and "paper" sons. In this novel she explores the complicated relationship an American-born daughter can have with her Chinese father, as well as the power of resilience required to make a home in a foreign land. Ng's writin ...more
Feb 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
One of the reviews on the dust jacket compared the author's writing to bebop jazz, so I shouldn't have been surprised that I was not a huge fan. I do tend to like things with more words! It was a little too much like poetry for my tastes. The history behind the story - that of Chinese immigrants in the early-mid 20th century - was interesting, and some of what the book has to say about families, the relationships between parents and children, and how each generation deals with that which came be ...more
Real Supergirl
May 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Ng is a brilliantly poetic writer who manages to weave myth and excruciatingly detailed narrative seamlessly. This isn't quite as clear and easy to follow as Bone, which in some ways makes it an even more complex novel. I'm definitely going to have to re-read it to get all the layers of narratives that Ng interweaves in this one. She also plays with an untraditional structure, switching protagonists, which adds to the feeling that all the characters are connected to one another and a part of a l ...more
"Her eyes were like an oath, the meaning of which he failed to decipher."

Steer Toward Rock is brilliant. I would call it poetry but it is not really poetic; it is bitter, a kind of beautiful bitterness. It's not a love story, although it is one too. The book is like love - beautiful, heartbreaking, cruel and utterly impossible to capture in words. I would recommend it to my friends.
Dec 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
The writing is at times beautiful, but the story is somewhat spare, more of a novella. I would have liked it better if I knew San Francisco and Chinatown; that would have given me some more details. I read shanghai girls on a flight back from China so I was familiar with the chinese confession/discrimination program in the US in the 50s. This is probably more interesting if you didn't know about that.
Apr 24, 2009 rated it liked it
This book was well-written. But I felt like most of the time I wasn't quite sure exactly what was going on. Who was in love with whom now? Who betrayed whom? The setting was quite interesting and to me, rather novel, but over all reading this book felt like overhearing someone talking on a cell phone, where you can only hear about half of what's going on.
Apr 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Lovely sense of language, place, if not quite so compelling re character. The story is unusual and engaging, though - an Asian butcher working to pay off his passage, who falls in love with his patron's intended mistress. The classic older-man / younger rival romantic triangle takes on new meaning in the cultural milieu of San Francisco's immigrant Chinese community.
Adrian Astur Alvarez
This was a novel that barely held my interest the whole way through. It was enough for me to finish but I was never excited about reading the story. I think I just couldn't relate to the story at all, though intellectually it is a very sophisticated novel about the realistic anguish that comes with racist U.S. immigration policies.
Aug 18, 2008 rated it it was ok
The narrator and his voice is *very* Chinese and that's all you get for the first couple chapters, which is as far as I got because he became a little too much for me. Too bad, because I enjoyed Faye's first book called "Bone."
May 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I have such enormous fondness and respect for Fae Myenne Ng, who writes complex novels, never easy ones, and who doesn't turn away from writing the violent or the unresolved when that's what a story requires. Thrilled to see STEER TOWARD ROCK out in print, and loved reading it through.
Jul 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting story of a man a Chinese man who immigrated to San Francisco, thanks to the underhanded dealings of his "father." The interesting story of his love, his wife, and his child was interesting and heartfelt, felt through the careful English of an immigrant.
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Fae Myenne Ng (born December 2, 1956 in San Francisco) is an American novelist, and short story writer.

She is a first-generation Chinese American author whose debut novel Bone told the story of three Chinese American daughters growing up in her real childhood hometown of San Francisco Chinatown. Her work has received support from the American Academy of Arts & Letters' Rome Prize, the Lila Wal
More about Fae Myenne Ng

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