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World and town : a novel by Gish Jen

World and town : a novel (edition 2010)

by Gish Jen

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Title:World and town : a novel
Authors:Gish Jen
Info:New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2010.
Collections:Your library

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World and Town by Gish Jen



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The main character of World and Town is Hattie - a widow in her 70s who was born in China of a Chinese father and a missionary white mother and sent to the US to be raised by relatives when the communists took over China. Besides her husband, Hattie has lost her best friend to cancer and when a Cambodian family takes up residence in a neighboring trailer, she spends much of her time helping them. In addition, an old colleague (and lover) returns to the small town which further complicates Hattie's life and brings up old memories she'd just as soon forget. Most of the book is from Hattie's perspective but there are two other sections - one told by the teenage Cambodian daughter Sophee and one by Hattie's neighbor Everett who has been kicked out of his house by his born-again wife. Where Hattie's voice rings true, the parts by Sophee and Everett are really self-conscious attempts at capturing a teenage and a rural man's voice and I found them awkward.

So...not great, but good parts and Hattie is a wonderful main character, very complex. I'd have been happy if the whole book had been about her. I get where Jen was going and I admire what she was setting out to do - exploring the loneliness of aging, reason vs superstition, the tensions between old and new, the lure of the evangelical church to the new immigrant - but don't feel like she ultimately got there.

Still, a flawed book by a good writer grappling with contemporary America is preferable to mindlss fluff about nothing.
( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
and back to the library it goes. Oh well.
  pam.enser | Apr 1, 2013 |
This is a deeply and uniquely American novel: World and Town raises contemporary issues and themes that are timeless and does so in a very readable and fast-paced story. There's insight and intelligence, humor, and compassion in Jen’s portrayal of a group of everyday people who see their world dramatically changing when a Cambodian family settles in their midst in a small New England town. We identify with these normal, average people who feel “just like us” as they seek to hold onto what is familiar and comforting while responding to the intrusion of “The World” with all its different values and confront twenty-first century problems large and small in sometimes clumsy, sometimes graceful, and always deeply humane and recognizable ways. Gish Jen is a wonderful author whose care for the people she creates is clear and loving, and whose insights into the human heart reveal her compassion and brilliance. ( )
  JaneReading | Dec 30, 2012 |
World and Town is about a woman (age 67, how unusual is that for a main character?) who was born in China of a Chinese father and an American mother who was the daughter of missionaries but went native. When the cultural revolution threatened they managed to sneak her to America where eventually she becomes a neurobiologist and teacher with a large number of people who depend on her and love her but she continues to feel like an outsider. The book is about principles of all types: scientific, economic, academic, religious- Confucian, christian, fundamentalist christian - and what to do when they conflict with personal relationships. There's a welcome and liberal use of the term hogwash. A major portion of the book revolves around the attempt of the main character, Hattie, to help some Cambodian immigrants who have moved in next door. Everything is very complicated and Hattie ends up being far more forgiving than I could ever imagine myself being. I don't know if that's because of her age and sense of mortality or the fact that she lives in a small town where one is forced to get along with one's neighbors out of necessity, or because of her Chinese - Confucian background. However she manages it, Hattie is fascinating character. ( )
  Citizenjoyce | Jan 2, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307272192, Hardcover)

Allegra Goodman Reviews World and Town

Allegra Goodman’s novels include The Cookbook Collector, Intuition and Kaaterskill Falls. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and Best American Short Stories. She is a winner of the Whiting Writer’s Award and a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Read her review of World and Town:

Gish Jen sets her novel in a small Vermont town, but extends her reach to the larger world when she writes about Hattie Kong and her new neighbors, a Cambodian family trying to start over after suffering from the traumas of war and the temptations of American city life.

Hattie has retreated to Riverlake in part for solitude, but she finds herself caught up in her neighbors’ struggles. Teenagers Sarun and Sophy try to forge American identities, even as their parents fear for their lives and souls. Slowly, Hattie begins to understand her neighbors’ history, and she sees that they are living with ghosts from their terrible past. At the same time, Hattie’s first love, Carter, appears on the scene, and she must come to terms with ghosts of her own.

I love the voices in this book--each compelling, each contributing to the layered story. I love Gish Jen’s sense of history as both personal and political, intimate and communal. The novel is powerful but also subtle and wise in its use of multiple points of view. It’s a book that begins with grief: Hattie is mourning her husband and her best friend, her neighbors grieve for what they lost in Cambodia. But grief is only a beginning. This is really a novel about survival and reconciliation.

Another writer might fall into sentimentality, bathos, or wish-fulfilling fantasy, but Gish never condescends to her characters. Their traumas and their mistakes, their self-deceptions, and their hard-earned victories read as utterly real. You will find yourself swept up and completely absorbed by this polyphonic and immensely moving novel. The world is Gish Jen’s stage. Her town becomes a theater in the round.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:51 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Two years after burying her husband and best friend, 68-year-old Hattie Kong moves to a small New England town where she is joined by a Cambodian family and reunited with an ex-lover before tackling challenges in the form of fundamentalist Christians and struggling family farms.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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