Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong

I came across this book via the 500 Great Books by Women Group on Goodreads. It’s a group that discusses the list in the book by Erica Bauermeister. It’s also a list on List Challenges if you like ticking off things online and that sort of thing.

And like in Family Trust by Kathy Wang, a book I was also reading at around the same time, it’s a book set in San Francisco. Unlike the 2018-published Family Trust, Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong was originally published in 1945, and it’s quite telling of its time, with a 73 year difference between publication of these two books.

Fifth Chinese Daughter is an autobiography but is written more like a novel. And it has a rather educational tone to it, like it’s trying to teach the (presumably) white person reading it. So as a modern Chinese-Singaporean reading this book, it sometimes is amusing but more often it feels a bit heavy-handed and didactic.

I must admire Wong’s life and her determination to be educated and find a career. It wasn’t easy at that time for women, and I must imagine, even more so for a Chinese woman living in the US. Her father, while pushing education, especially Chinese-language education, when she was younger, is unwilling to pay for college, as he’s already paying for her brother’s medical school.

“You are quite familiar by now with the fact that it is the sons who perpetuate our ancestral heritage by permanently bearing the Wong family name and transmitting it through their blood line, and therefore the songs must have priority over the daughters when parental provision for advantages must be limited by economic necessity. Generations of sons, bearing our Wong name, are those who make pilgrimages to ancestral burial grounds and preserve them forever. Our daughters leave home at marriage to give sons to their husbands’ families to carry on the heritage for other names.”

She then begins working as a housekeeper for various families and manages to also find herself a scholarship to a college.

It’s an interesting account of various Chinese traditions, such as a funeral, a baby’s first full month with red eggs (which is something that Chinese families in Singapore still do) and pickled pigs’ feet (that was new to me).

Fifth Chinese Daughter may be a bit dated but it does offer an insight into the life of a young Chinese-American growing up in San Francisco at the time and trying to find a balance between her traditional Chinese upbringing and the more American lifestyle she’s becoming accustomed to as she goes to school and finds a career for herself.

This is my read for Back to the Classics – Classic From a Place You’ve Lived as it’s set in the San Francisco Bay Area

 

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Family Trust by Kathy Wang

This book appealed to me for several reasons.

– it’s set in the San Francisco Bay Area and perhaps more importantly, not just the city itself but also the rest of the Bay Area. Don’t get me wrong, I like the city (well parts of it at least), the husband works there and all, but we live in the East Bay and it’s nice to see other parts of the area talked about.

– it’s a story about East Asian immigrants. They are originally from Taiwan, as are many of those in the Bay Area and I’m always interested in stories about immigration, particularly from Asia.

Also it opens with a whopper of a first sentence.

“Stanley Huang sat, naked but for the thing cotton dressing gown crumpled against the sterile white paper in the hospital room, and listened to the young doctor describe how he would die.”

He’s been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and this is the story of how he and his family deal with it.

He has a son, Fred, Harvard Business School grad, who’s been trying to make it big in the fintech industry but hasn’t quite yet. His daughter Kate is doing well at a well-known Silicon Valley company but is struggling with the balance of home and work. Also something seems to be up with her husband who is trying to get his start-up going.

Then there is their mother, Stanley’s ex-wife, Linda, perhaps a less-than-usual Asian woman of her time, one who continued working for decades, and yes, even divorced her husband. She’s even been thinking of dating again!

“What was one supposed to say, when one’s now-ex-husband of thirty-four years was struck with such a diagnosis?”

Stanley’s current wife Mary is 28 years younger than him. She’s a former waitress and has devoted her new life to caring for Stanley but now with Stanley dying, his family is suspicious of her motives.

For Stanley has often hinted at his riches – in the millions! Who deserves it more, the one who’s been caring for him in recent years? His children? Linda is determined to make sure her kids get their fair share.

Family Trust is a Silicon Valley story. It is also an Asian family story. It is also an American story. It’s a story about the pursuit of success, about money, about family obligation. There probably will be Crazy Rich Asians comparisons but as someone not a fan of that series, let me just say that Family Trust is better. Its characters are complex yet relatable, its observations of Silicon Valley life and family relationships are astute and witty. A great debut!

Honestly, Linda has some of the best lines.

“The woman likely didn’t even think she spoke English, regarding her as just another sexless Asian dotting her periphery – someone who could be ignored at will, like a houseplant.”

 

And here’s another – apparently there are differences according to where you landed up as an immigrant.

“Everyone knew that the best Chinese immigrants of their generation were settled in California, and mostly in the Bay Area. There were some in Los Angeles, but then you ran the risk of ending up with some sleazy import/exporter. And Linda had no intention of being matched with some grocery store operator in, say, Reno.”

 

“She knew exactly how Americans saw women like the Mercedes driver – as indistinguishable from herself. An Asian lady consumed with the creation and consumption of money, who neglected to hug her children. Why did white people like to pick and choose from cultures with such zealous judgment? Of course they just loved Szechuan cuisine served by a young waitress in a cheap cheongsam, but as soon as you proved yourself just as adept at the form of capitalism they had invented? Then you were obsessed. Money crazed. Unworthy of sympathy.”

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

This was a great read. If you like books (and since you’re reading my blog post, I’m presuming you do) and libraries, this is a book for you!

I’d seen some reviews and synopses where it mentioned the Los Angeles public library fire of 1986 and I had thought, oh wow a book just about this library fire? I hadn’t known that this huge fire had occurred – it burnt hundreds of thousands of books and damaged many more – so that already had me intrigued. So I thought it would some kind of investigative reporting about the fire. It wasn’t exactly. And I was thankful it wasn’t.

We are told about the terrifying fire. How it burned for hours, hit 2500 degrees (!), had more than 3 million gallons of water dumped on it

Orleans discusses a variety of related issues like book burning in history. And how, as part of her research, burnt a book herself. Her research into the history of the Los Angeles Public Library is really interesting and thorough.

But for me the loveliest – and saddest – parts of the book was when Orlean talked about visiting the library with her mother. How her mother used to take her to the library as a child and as a teenager. How her mother had thought that being a librarian would have been the job for her. But sadly her mother had been suffering from dementia. I loved how she wrote the book for her mother, and shared her mother’s love for libraries with fellow library lovers and readers of this lovely book.

“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned. When I first heard the phrase, I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realise it was perfect. Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share, one that burns down and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it–with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in a story recited–it takes on a life of its own.”

Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks

 

I am a relatively quick reader, so for a book to take me some two months to read means several things..
1. I am not all that interested in it
2. I am not completely thrown off it so I am still willing to pick it up now and then, if I can remember to, among all the other many books I am reading at the same time.

So here this book is, it was brought along in the car as my ‘waiting to pick up the kids from school’ read, it was brought along in the swimming bag as my ‘waiting for the kids to finish their swim class’ read. For a book, it was relatively widely travelled, at least in my suburban town.

Parts of the book interested me. I liked reading about Tariq and his strange escape from Morocco. I was disappointed when Sandrine disappeared, I wanted to find out more about her. I learnt a lot more about the Parisian metro system and station names than I ever expected to learn from a book.

I enjoyed reading the invented archived interviews that Hannah listens to as part of her research. It reminded me of when I did my master’s thesis and how I combed through audio interviews in the Singapore archives.

The stories of Tariq and Hannah often felt like two separate books that just so happened to coincidentally come together in one, in a way that I still don’t get. And that was seemingly brushed off as a, eh, that’s what people do, kind of way.

For me this was a, ah Paris, and an, ah historical research, but essentially meh read.

Crudo by Olivia Laing

 

Maybe I’m just not the right reader for this book. I thought it was really clever and quite different (it’s written from the point of view of Kathy Acker, the writer of Blood and Guts in High School which I have to remember to go look for and read) but this whole stream of consciousness mode wasn’t quite for me. I enjoyed how current it was – set in 2017, full of mentions of political events and whatnot that take place around that time. Maybe I’d appreciate it more if I had read Kathy Acker’s works before? There’s a bitterness to this book that’s hard to swallow.

I’m intrigued by the different covers. The crab guts one is the one that attracted me (I’m always attracted to books with food on the covers), but the ebook version I borrowed ended up having the dismembered fly on the cover. Which one do you prefer?

Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu makes me want to know more about hockey

 

I know pretty much nothing about ice hockey! I grew up in a land where hockey = the kind with rounded sticks and a round ball and is played in a field. Very different kind of hockey.
And to be honest, this book was requested from the library because I saw “Check, Please!” on the Reading The End blog and thought, oh, a comic set in a restaurant? Yes, please!Turned out to be a different kind of check all together. But this comic has now turned me into a…. well, not a complete turnaround into a hockey fan but at least someone who’s curious now about hockey and wouldn’t say no to watching a game!

I love that the main character is a newbie, a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team. Bittle (or Bitty as he’s known) is a former figure skater, a baking aficionado (he makes pies!) and is gay but still hasn’t come out yet. And the teammates he has! There’s Shitty who’s funny and smart and deep. Holster and Ransom are in an amazing bromance. Then there’s Jack, the handsome captain with a sad past and who Bitty has the biggest ever crush on.

Check Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

It reminds me of manga, mostly because of the way Bitty has such big eyes. And there’s a cuteness to it that I would never associate with ice hockey.

So even if you don’t care an inkling about ice hockey like I do, Check, Please! is a fun comic series to try out! Also it will make you hungry for pie.

The Forsaken Inn by Anna Katherine Green

This is one of those free classics on the Kindle store that I found and I hadn’t heard of the author before so off I went to google her. It turns out that Green was one of the first writers of detective fiction in America, apparently popularizing the genre some years before Sherlock Holmes even.

Her most famous novel is The Leavenworth Case which is the first book in the Mr Gryce series

The Forsaken Inn isn’t a detective story though it is a sort of locked-room mystery set in an New York inn in the 1700s. Told from the perspective of the inn owner, the story begins with a couple spending a night at the inn. The man’s rather creepy and has a huge box with him. The couple spends the night (the innkeeper feels uncomfortable) and they leave the next day.

“I became conscious of a great uneasiness. This was the more strange in that there seemed to be no especial cause for it. They had left my house in apparently better spirits than they had entered it, and there was no longer any reason why I should concern myself about them. And yet I did concern myself, and came into the house and into the room they had just vacated, with feelings so unusual that I was astonished at myself, and not a little provoked. I had a vague feeling that the woman who had just left was somehow different from the one I had seen the night before.”

Some years later, a hidden room is discovered at the inn. And in it, there is the body of the woman and she has an engraved wedding ring. But didn’t she leave with her husband all those years ago?

Some interesting twists, but a somewhat roundabout manner of narration and a wordy way more suited to readers of 1890 meant that my eyes glazed over a bit occasionally but I ended up finishing this less than usual classic.

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge – Classic by a Female Author