Synopses & Reviews
The life of a young Chinese girl is torn apart by dark family secrets and divided loyalties in a small Ontario town in the 1950s. Judy Fong Bates's fresh and engaging first novel is the story of Su-Jen Chou, a Chinese girl growing up the only daughter of an unhappy and isolated immigrant family in a small Ontario town in the 1950s. Through Su-Jen's eyes we see the hard life behind the scenes at the Dragon Caf, the local diner her family runs. Her half-brother Lee-Kung smolders under the responsibilities he must carry as the dutiful Chinese son. Her mother, beautiful but bitter, lays her hopes and dreams on Su-Jen's shoulders, until she turns to find solace in the most forbidden of places, while Su-Jen's elderly father strives to hek fuh, swallow bitterness, and save face at all costs.
"In this deeply affecting debut novel by the author of the short story collection China Dog, intrepid Su-Jen Chou, the only daughter of parents who flee Communist China in the 1950s to become proprietors of a Chinese restaurant in an isolated Ontario town, watches as her family unravels. In Irvine, it is 'so quiet you can hear the dead,' and Su-Jen's mother, Jing, beautiful and bitter, laments her imprisonment in an unfamiliar country. To Jing's chagrin, Su-Jen's father, Hing-Wun, much older than his wife, believes in the traditional method for obtaining wealth: endless hard work. When Su-Jen's handsome older half-brother, Lee-Kung, comes to live with the family and help out in the restaurant, Su-Jen is happy, but soon she notices her mother and Lee-Kung exchanging veiled glances and realizes they're keeping some dangerous secret. Increasingly, Su-Jen finds herself caught between her parents, who have 'settled into an uneasy and distant relationship...their love, their tenderness, they give to their daughter.' She seeks relief in books and in the Chinese tales her father loves to tell, but the trouble festering comes to a head when a mail-order bride arrives for her brother. Bates conveys with pathos and generosity the anger, disappointment, vulnerability and pride of people struggling to balance duty and passion." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The mounting suspense of family secrets makes this first novel a breathless read....The haunting characters in that lonely greasy spoon evoke a tradition stretching back to Carson McCullers." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Deeply satisfying: a lovely sensuality pervades in spite of the harshness of the world Bates portrays so eloquently. Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Judy Fong Bates is the author of the short story collection China Dog: And Other Tales from a Chinese Laundry. Stories from that collection have been broadcast on CBC Radio. Judy Fong Bates lives in Toronto.