Synopses & Reviews
From the highly praised author of Mona in the Promised Land
and Who's Irish?
a generous, funny, explosive novel about the new "half-half" American family.
Here is Carnegie Wong, second-generation Chinese American warm heart and funny guy. Here is his WASP wife, the delicious "za-za-vavoomy" Blondie. Here are their two adopted Asian daughters, and their half-half bio son. And here is Mama Wong, Carnegie's no-holds-barred mother, who, eternally opposed to his marriage, has arranged from her grave for a mainland Chinese relation to come look after the kids. Is this woman, as Carnegie claims, a nanny? Or is she, as Blondie fears, something else?
What happens as Carnegie and Blondie try to incorporate the ambiguous new arrival into their already complicated lives is touchingly, brilliantly, intricately told.
Powerfully evoking the contemporary American family in all its fragility and strength, Gish Jen has given us her most exuberant and accomplished novel.
"A meddlesome Chinese-American mother bequeaths a Chinese nanny to her ambivalent son and his big blonde wife in this darkly comic fairy tale about cultural assimilation, biological destiny and domestic warfare. In her earlier novels (Typical American; etc.) and short stories, Jen established a sort of Asian Richter scale, registering the culture shock of new and not-so-new Chinese immigrants and their complicated, irrepressible families. Here she focuses on the racially mixed Wong family: Carnegie; his older wife, Janie (dubbed 'Blondie' by Carnegie's hilariously awful mother); two adopted Asian daughters (the difficult teenager Lizzy and the hypersensitive Wendy); and a 'bio' baby son who looks disturbingly non-Asian. When Carnegie's mother dies after a long bout with Alzheimer's, the Wongs are shocked to learn that she has arranged for an extended visit by a female relative from the Mainland, the unmarried, mysterious Lan. A year older than Blondie, whose 'dewlap' and resemblance to an 'Aeroflot' are beginning to alarm Carnegie, Lan seems quaint, 'plainish' and self-effacing; soon her ambiguous status, passive-aggressiveness and blooming beauty threaten to destabilize the already rocky Wong marriage. Not only does she captivate Carnegie, who is dismayed and fascinated by his own rediscovered Chinese identity, she also preys on the Wong girls' insecurity as Blondie's nonbiological daughters. What threatens to turn into a standard evil-nanny plot takes on unexpected depth as Jen captures the not always likable Wong family with her trademark compassion, laser-like attention to detail and quirky wit. Though the shifting first-person narratives sometimes come off as awkwardly stagey (particularly Carnegie's, with comments like 'I was entranced by the eternal return of villanelles that deathless morph'), this novel has a robust, lived-in quality that makes you miss it when it's over. Agent, Maxine Groffsky. 11-city author tour. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] hugely entertainingly American family...a vibrant work notable for its unusual and arresting dialogue-saturated style....[A] smart, piquant, and far-reaching tragicomedy." Booklist
"Psychologically and politically astute....Jen's eye for the complexities of American life is shrewd, her characters utterly believable." Kirkus Reviews
"Poignant, funny, and powerful...Jen's latest raises many questions about the significance of race relations within family life and provides an illuminating portrait of Chinese Americans. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"For the first time, Jen's writing is bland and unremarkable. In striving to create credible voices for her characters, she's abandoned her own." Craig Seligman, The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Gish Jen is the author of two previous novels and a book of stories. Her honors include the Lannan Award for Fiction and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives with her husband and two children in Cambridge, Massachusetts.