You know how I had mentioned in my post on Wayson Choy’s Jade Peony that I am apprehensive about reading Chinese immigrant stories? So why was it that immediately after reading Jade Peony, I picked up Cristina Garcia’s Monkey Hunting? I’m not sure myself. But from Vancouver’s Chinatown, I found myself in Cuba, following Chen Pan who in 1857 travels from China to be enslaved (unsuspectingly so) on a sugarcane plantation. He somehow makes it out of the plantation, becomes his own boss (he sells secondhand goods) and buys a mulatto woman out of slavery.
Of course, immigrant stories are never told just by that one generation alone, so Garcia throws us over to New York in 1968 where we meet Domingo, Chen Pan’s great-grandson, and also to Shanghai in the 1920s where Chen Fang, Chen Pan’s granddaughter beats the odds and finds work as an educator. These sudden shifts in location, time and character can be a bit jarring, especially when I was more interested in the goings-on in Cuba (I never thought I’d read a story about Chinese immigrants in Cuba, for one thing) and the way these other sections felt more like anecdotes and left many questions, and just felt somewhat incomplete. Perhaps a more sweeping story, allowing for a greater focus on the lives on Chen Pan’s descendants would have been better?
Today, writing this, a week after reading this book (and having gone on to several others since), Chen Pan’s story still sticks in my mind but those of his descendants, not so much. Garcia’s book offers up a unique setting for the immigrant story, and a rather engaging start, but in the end, it was a little forgettable and a bit confusing.
I read this book for the Global Reading Challenge