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Steer Toward Rock by Fae Myenne Ng
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Steer Toward Rock (edition 2008)

by Fae Myenne Ng

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38None296,716 (3.36)3
Member:LukeS
Title:Steer Toward Rock
Authors:Fae Myenne Ng
Info:Hyperion (2008), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 255 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:San Francisco, Chinese immigration

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Steer Toward Rock by Fae Myenne Ng

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At a horrific, life-changing moment, a Chinese immigrant in the United States under a false name and false pretenses thinks of some wisdom his mother had given him. He is about to be separated from his hand as two thugs drag him to a table saw, he remembers his mother’s aphorism: “Trust rock, she told him. Break fear upon rock. … Go toward fear. Trust fear. Steer toward rock.” She told him this as she was preparing to sell him to an illegal immigration ring in the U.S.

So the young man, who must make payments to his mob boss for the right to live, sustains himself at this ghastly moment. And Steer Toward Rock becomes the aphorism by which this novel’s characters must live if they want to find meaning, family, and happiness. Impressive for its sustained obliquity, Fae Myenne Ng’s book brought me into the Chinese culture in San Francisco’s Chinatown like no other book ever did. She stretches this culture taut across a frame of trans-Pacific exploitation and racketeering. We learn of the purchased boy from China whose name becomes Jack Moon Szeto, a multiple falsity rooted in a scheme to allow illegal entry to Chinese immigrants. Before confessing his status to the American authorities, he becomes another link in the illegal and oppressive chain. He must take a bogus bride purchased for him from China, but here he finds companionship and eventually fathers a fiery, headstrong daughter.

This entire history leads to the daughter. This is really her story – how she hasn’t steered toward the rock of honesty in her love life, but does free her father from the tangled, fear-ridden narrative of his past by shepherding him through the naturalization process.

I love the conversations between the Chinese men in San Francisco. They holler at each other, tease each other, voices seemingly raised at all times; they want to get each other’s goats. Through it all, though, there is honesty, good will, humor, and bemusement at life.(Jack himself exhibits wisdom unusual in one his age; his almost every statement, every piece of advice for friends and family drips with ancient Chinese wisdom.) This banter, with its glimpse into Chinese culture, is a major delight here, and worth the price of admission all by itself. I could have wished for a more-closely-described San Francisco, but this may have been absent by authorial intent. She tells her story obliquely, until roughly the last quarter of the book, when the daughter’s character takes center stage and the narrative takes on greater concreteness. Until then, though, the story is told as though through a mist, becoming visible like Victorian homes on a foggy day in San Francisco.

It would be hard to top this book’s intent look at the San Francisco Chinese culture, or its treatment of the Hon Pak confession program, pursued in the 1950s by U.S. Immigration authorities as a sort of bait-and-switch tactic to get better records on Chinese and other immigrants. The family histories feel all too true, and the saga of exploitation all too consistent with the world’s ever-present greed.

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2013/01/steer-toward-rock-by-fae-myenne-ng.ht... ( )
  LukeS | Jan 27, 2013 |
  asianamlitfans | Nov 25, 2011 |
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I actually did. It started out really strong - how could it not, with an opening line like “The woman I loved wasn’t in love with me; the woman I married wasn’t a wife to me.” This had all the trappings of one of Zhang Yimou's mid-90's melodramas: star-crossed lovers, literary pretensions, a little bit of criminal intrigue as befits the 1960's San Francisco underworld. But it abandoned that about a third of the way through and switched to a macro-time minor-key Joy Luck Club. Which isn't to belittle Amy Tan, but this was something of a bait-and-switch as far as I was concerned. ( )
  theanalogdivide | Dec 1, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0786860979, Hardcover)

"The woman I loved wasn't in love with me; the woman I married wasn't a wife to me. Ilin Cheung was my wife on paper. In deed, she belonged to Yi-Tung Szeto. In debt, I also belonged to him. He was my father, paper too."

Steer Toward Rock, Fae Myenne Ng's heartbreaking novel of unrequited love, tells the story of the only bachelor butcher at the Universal Market in San Francisco. Jack Moon Szeto--that was the name he bought, the name he made his life by--serves the lonely grass widows whose absentee husbands work the farmlands in the Central Valley. A man who knows that the body is the only truth, Jack attends to more than just their weekly orders of lamb or beef.

But it is the free-spirited, American-born Joice Qwan with whom Jack falls in love. A woman whose life is guided by more than simple pain, Joice hands out towels at the Underground Bathhouse and sells tickets at the Great Star Theatre; her mother cleans corpses. Joice wants romance and she wants to escape Chinatown, but Jack knows that she is his ghost of love, better chased than caught.

It is the 1960s and while the world is on the edge of an exciting future, Jack has not one grain of choice in his life. When his paper wife arrives from China he is forced to fulfill the last part of his contract and to stand before the law with the woman who is to serve as mistress to his fake father. Jack has inherited a cruel cultural legacy. A man with no claim to the past, his only hope is to make a new story for himself, one that includes both Joice and America.

Not since Bone, Fae Myenne Ng's highly praised debut novel, has a work so eloquently revealed the complex loyalties of Chinese America. Steer Toward Rock is the story of a man who chooses love over the law, illuminating a part of U.S. history few are aware of, but one that has had echoing effects for generations.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:29 -0400)

A solitary bachelor butcher in San Francisco's McCarthy-era Chinatown, Jack Szeto serves the left-behind housewives of Central Valley farm laborers, falls in love with the daughter of a shunned mortician, and triggers a heartbreaking retaliatory act.

(summary from another edition)

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