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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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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 |
This is the first book of Gish Jen's I have read and I had high hopes based on good reviews I've read of her writing. Unfortunately this novel wasn't as compelling to me as I hoped it would be; it had the potential to be so much more but somehow missed the mark.

The novel centers around Hattie, a sixty-something Chinese American who lost both her husband and her best friend to cancer in the same year. Reeling from the losses, Hattie moves to a small town in New England where she spends her days walking with friends, painting, and keeping an eye on the happenings of the town. Soon after the novel begins, a Cambodian family moves in on the lot next door and Hattie finds herself inexplicably drawn to them.

What ensues is an exploration of the idea that the world is encompassed in this one town, with its melting pot of cultures and background. The concepts of assimilation and acculturation, as well as the question of belonging to two different worlds, are explored artfully. Jen does a lovely job of portraying the dynamics of the small town.

Where the novel lost me, however, was its attempt to move in too many different directions. There's Hattie's unresolved feelings for Carter Hatch, her teenage love who's just returned to town, as well as the slowly unraveling story of the Chhung family next door. Add to that a side story involving a marriage that disintegrates after the wife is "born again," with a peek into the fundamentalist church she belongs to and how it winds into other characters' lives in the story. Then there are three different viewpoints utilized in the novel: Hattie's, Sophy Chhung's, and Everett, the jilted husband.

All of it is interesting, but there was simply too much going on for me to feel fully invested in the characters and storylines. It felt a bit like channel surfing between several different television shows. I enjoyed it, and I think it had an important message to deliver, but it just didn't keep me as riveted as I hoped it would. I'll look forward to her next novel with hopes that it will be a bit more focused. ( )
  Litfan | Sep 4, 2011 |
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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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