Earlier this year, I read Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok and absolutely adored it. It has so far been one of my favorite books that I have read for this project, so when I saw that Jean Kwok was releasing a new novel, I was excited to get the chance to read it. It took a while for the book to make its way to me through the library hold process, but Mambo in Chinatown was well worth the wait!
Mambo in Chinatown is a slightly more mature novel than Girl in Translation was in that it follows the worries and life of an adult narrator, but the skill with which Kwok captured the voice of the central character is beautifully similar. Through the narrative voice of Charlie Wong, the reader is able to get a true glimpse inside the life of the child of immigrants coming to terms with herself in a difficult transition period in her life.
The balance that is most fascinating throughout the novel is represented through the difference between Charlie inside and outside Chinatown. Her ability to separate and compartmentalize parts of herself is something that I think many readers would recognize, and the reasons behind it shed a lot of light into the experiences of a person or character in her position.
The novel is full of compelling, complex characters, and I very much enjoyed reading it. I will avidly watch for new books from Jean Kwok in the future. Both of her novels so far have impressed me a huge amount, and I cannot wait to see what she will come out with next.
Reading Level: high school and up
It took me a few tries to get properly started on Bone by Fae Myenne Ng, partially because I have been busy with work, and partially because some of the descriptions of San Francisco were almost jarringly familiar. This was actually one of my favorite elements of the novel once I got over the strangeness of being thrown back into a city I haven’t been in in years. Ng captures San Francisco brilliantly, and as I read the novel I was in my mind walking and busing along the streets and routes that she tells about. I don’t know if it would be as striking an experience for someone who isn’t extremely familiar with SF, but I was impressed with the way that she captured the city.
Bone doesn’t follow a chronological path, but it captures a fascinating look into the emotional process of grief and coming to terms with death. The novel also shows an intense insider’s perspective of San Francisco’s Chinatown and life there during the protagonist’s childhood and early adulthood.
Ng’s characters are compelling and understandable, and I found myself drawn into the emotions and conflicts surrounding their family bonds. Through those conflicts, bit by bit, the story of their world was shown. While the novel is about a very personal set of conflicts, the very circumstances of those personal conflicts brings to light a lot of the generational tensions present in SF’s Chinatown and many other places.
There were elements of this novel that really reminded me of Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Both novels follow a similar cultural narrative about how the children of immigrant families adapt and change to fit into their new country. I think that the two novels would make a fascinating comparison, and I really liked both of them.
Reading Level: High School and up
Pair With: Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents