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Bone by Fae Myenne Ng
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Bone (1993)

by Fae Myenne Ng

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Bone traces how the suicide of the middle of three Chinese-American sisters affects an already dysfunctional family.

Hotheaded, loud-mouthed seaman Leon Leong is living apart from his depressed wife, Mah, neither able to get past the suicide of their 20-year-old daughter Ona. He lives in an old-man's hotel, the San Fran and hangs out with disreputable old sea buddies on Portsmouth Square. Eldest daughter Leila, Ona's half-sister from Mah's brief marriage to Lyman Fu, searches for Leon to break the news she has returned to San Francisco from New York married to long-time boyfriend, Mason. Leila drives next past the school where she works and the building from which Ona jumped to inform Mah at her Baby Store. Mah is upset they have eloped.

They made the decision after the youngest sister, Nina, convinces Leila she must begin living her own life - as Nina has - rather than allowing her own guilt over Ona to continue playing into their parents' guilt. The sisters are very different in temperament, despite a close and loving childhood only lightly linked to their Chinese heritage. Leila's relationship with Mason, a skilled mechanic, has been affected by Ona's suicide, because Mah has talked Leila into returning home to fill Leon's place in her life. Leon wants to marry, but Leila feels guilty about leaving Mah. He also wants to form his own business with his best friend, Zeke. Packing for their New York trip, Leila thinks about how deeply Leon and Mah each blame themselves for bring on a family curse. Mah has had an affair, and Leon has failed to return Grandpa Leong's bones to China for burial. He is not a blood relative, but claims to be to get Leon into the U.S. decades before. When Leon tries to sign up for Social Security, all his lies to the government and employers catch up with him, proving to him he is cursed. Whenever Leon is at sea, Mah's life is miserable. The worst time comes when Grandpa Leong dies, and she has to make all the funeral arrangements. She leans on their gangster landlord, Tommie Hom, who offers her a job.

To get Mah's mind off Ona, Nina flies her to Hong Kong for the first time in 25 years, and it brightens her outlook for a while. Ona's leap had brought great tragedy to the already dysfunctional family and Chinatown at large. Coming as it does 3 days before the Chinese New Year, mourning must combine with festivities, which cannot be accomplished. The suicide also comes on the heels of the failure of the Leong & Ong Laundry and Leon's angry demand that Ona break up with his ex-partner's son, Osvaldo, whom they had earlier considered a son. Ona had taken this as a dare and stood up to her beloved father. Everyone is awkward in the presence of death. Nina reluctantly comes home, but only after Leila has borne, with only Mason's help, the nightmare of getting the news, informing the family, and handling the arrangements. Mah is resigned and miserable, and Leon is angry and defensive. Leila and Nina circle each other as they have since adolescence, but they make peace in the face of adversity.

Mah and Leon had slowly reconciled before the suicide, largely through Ona's mediation after Leon learned about Mah's affair with Tommie Hom. Tight finances had forced Leon to return to the sea when he had wanted to stay ashore, keep an eye on Mah, whom he long suspected of infidelity, and watch his daughters grow. Mah had considered marrying Tommie Hom before Leon proposed, after her first husband, Lyman Fu, Leila's biological father, runs off to Australia. Leon and Mah both know she married to get her green card. Knowing from family history how messy married life can be, Leila had left home to live with Mason before Ona's suicide, confident she could come back.
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
In many ways, I really love this book. It has an incredibly unique and complex narrative structure that is extremely fun and deep to analyze, the characters are compelling, and it speaks a great deal to the heart of the immigrant experience, with the children thrust into the position of being outsiders in many ways to both worlds. Not saying too much about it, it is certainly well worth giving a try if the description captures your interest at all. ( )
  TiffanyAK | Dec 31, 2014 |
Really promising premise undone by really mediocre writing style, characterization, and overall storytelling ability. ( )
  CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
Books Reads in the Past:

A novel structured with jumps in the time of the narrative, and very effectively so. Ng's plotting allows for revelations and surprises even though the outcomes are already known. This structure can feel formulaic in less capable hands, but here is simply a plot structure to provide scaffolding for a well-rendered, emotional, and intimate story. ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
OK book, I was expecting more based on reviews.
  laluna179 | Aug 10, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 006097592X, Paperback)

In this profoundly moving novel, Fae Myenne Ng takes readers into the hidden heart of San Francisco's Chinatown, to a world of family secrets, hidden shames, and the lost bones of a "paper father." It is a world in which two generations of the Leong family live in an uneasy tension as they try to fathom the source of the middle daughter Ona's sorrow. Fae Myenne Ng's portraits of the everyday heroism of the Leongs--who inflict deep hurt on each other in their struggles to survive, yet sustain one another with loyalty and love--have made Bone one of the most critically acclaimed novels of recent years and immediately a classic of contemporary American life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:22 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In this profoundly moving novel, Fae Myenne Ng takes readers into the hidden heart of San Francisco's Chinatown, to a world of family secrets, hidden shames, and the lost bones of a "paper father." It is a world in which two generations of the Leong family live in an uneasy tension as they try to fathom the source of the middle daughter Ona's sorrow. Fae Myenne Ng's portraits of the everyday heroism of the Leongs--who inflict deep hurt on each other in their struggles to survive, yet sustain one another with loyalty and love--have made Bone one of the most critically acclaimed novels of recent years and immediately a classic of contemporary American life.… (more)

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