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.”

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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.

Mary B by Katherine J Chen

When I found this on the library’s “new books” shelves, I was intrigued. Why would anyone write a novel with Mary Bennet as the main character? In Pride and Prejudice, she’s the middle daughter, very preachy, very serious, very down in the mouth. She seems to be surrounded by a perpetual cloud of glum – that is, if her presence can even recalled at all, except for that moment at the party when she’s told to shut up and let someone else have a turn. Mary is to be laughed at, in Austen’s book, but in Chen’s book, she holds her own.

Mary B begins in childhood, with Mary realising that she’s not treated the same as her other sisters. She is hurt in the face but the adults’ concern is for Jane.

“Though still a child, I already saw, unfolding before me, a life lived ingratiatingly in the shadwos, of sitting like an old gargoyle at dinner tables while, some few feet away, the living laughed and exchanged stories. I would have no stories to tell. No estates to run. No children to speak of. I would not be blessed with the holy rites of matrimony and would thus be compelled to live my years beholden to the loveliness of one or two older sisters, who would, by their charity, ensure that I always had food to eat and a roof over my head.”

The action then moves into the very same period with the original characters and storyline, except seen from Mary’s perspective. And this I enjoyed very much. It was interesting to see things from the sidelines, as a young woman with no suitors, assigned the “role of living scenery”, like Charlotte and Maria Lucas are too.

“These women will normally appear extraordinarily pleased with themselves and their company, for it is in their best interest that they look as happy in talking with members of their own sex as the women who are engaged in dancing, or, worse, the women who are not engaged in dancing but are surrounded by more men than should justly be allotted to them, which, of course, is any number more than one.”

I found it interesting that Chen developed Mr Collins’ character quite a bit, for he is quite a character and I’d always thought that he and Mary would have gotten along – or at least had more similarities than the other characters.

So I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the book, written in the same setting and period as the original book. But where Chen gets more daring is in the second half of the book, where she ventures to imagine a future for the Bennets.

And this is perhaps where things take a turn for the not so good. In this imagined future, things are not so rosy for all her sisters. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers so I won’t go any further but I must say that I do not like Chen’s vision of Elizabeth’s future. She writes Lizzy as a very whiny character, as if Chen herself has been affronted by Lizzy in some way.

Perhaps if Chen had stayed with the Pride and Prejudice story and not ventured too far, she might have been more successful. It’s never easy retelling a beloved story and this is an especially beloved story with its many movie and TV adaptations. I could feel her sentiments about Mary, I could tell she was so wanting Mary to have her chance to shine, to have her happy ending, but it seemed too much like it was at the expense of the other characters.

This is my second read of 2019 and I’m using this book for the Popsugar challenge – Retelling of a Classic

Severance by Ling Ma

What exactly was I expecting from this book? Yet another dystopian tale. And yes there was that (this thing called Shen Fever has affected the world) but there was also so much more. There was a story about immigrants – a couple from Fujian province who leave their young daughter to be raised by grandparents while they try to find a better life in the US, bringing her over only a few years later. I was excited – Fujian province, that’s where some of my family is from!

But also I was intrigued by how this woman continues to work at her job in New York City as the world crumbles around her.

And the unusual epidemic, in which the “fevered” go through the motions of their daily lives over and over. For instance, a woman sets the table and her family raises their utensils to “eat” then she clears the table and it all begins again. And yet there are subtle differences with each repetition.

There is a kind of coldness to the book and yet it is irresistible and I am drawn to this woman and the cult of sorts she finds herself in.

A strange and intriguing read.

Patina by Jason Reynolds

I loved Ghost, Reynolds’ first book in the Track series, and this book was even better than that. I loved that Reynolds wrote a female main character, one who is full of heart and also very complicated and real. On one hand she’s trying to fit in at her new school where everyone seems to be wealthy, then she’s also trying to be a good big sister and daughter, though they only see their mum on weekends and live with their aunt and uncle. On top of all that she runs track. She’s part of an elite track team and has been picked to be a member of the 4×800 relay which requires team work and being in sync with each other.

What a read!