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by Fae Myenne Ng
500 Great Books by Women (261)
AP Lit (347)
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Here's what you need to understand first and foremost. This is a story built around grief. Ona, the middle sister, jumped off the M floor of the Nam. M happens to be the thirteenth floor. Unlucky, unforgivable thirteen. Everything that happens to her surviving family centers on this one fact. Ona jumped. Everything is marked by the time Before Ona Jumped and the time After Ona Jumped. Confessional: I am like that, too. When I hear a specific date, I quickly do the math to determine if it is A.D.D. (after dad's death) or before - B.D.D. Leila is the eldest of three daughters and the one most constrained by old China values versus modern American China. She is aware of the boldness of her actions (eloping when her ancestors had childbride arranged marriages), but she isn't the boldest of the family. All three sisters are responsible for Mah's shame. Her sister Ona committed suicide (shame) and her sister, Nina, had an abortion (shame). Even Mah carries shame (an affair while her second husband was away at sea as a merchant marine). Told from the perspective of Lei, she has to make a decision between dating and duty; between marriage with Mason and Mah. Having both seems impossible. ( )
A searing novel about grief, family, and the profound effect our choices make on those who love us told through an odd, though effective, backward spiral in time.
The backward storyline impressed me the most, as I had not read a book told from the end to the beginning. At first, I was startled, but as I continued to read, the more profound and deeply moving the narrative became. Imagine starting out cynical and world-weary and going backward to a time of unconditional love and innocence.
A must-read for anyone coping with loss, family-dynamics... A bonus is the Chinese immigrant and first generation Chinese-American cultural insights.
This book was interesting at points, but I felt like there was not real driving plot to it. This is most likely because it moves backwards in time. I never really hit that point where you can't put the book down with this book. I struggled to find actual interest to keep me reading other than the fact that it was assigned to me.
The tone and delivery are a little so-so at the beginning but the writing finds it's pace after a while. Or maybe I acclimated to the style. A few chapters in the middle were repetitious and dragged. Overall it was enjoyable.
There is a fascination with naming brands of cars that doesn't fit that well with the rest of the material and style.
This novel is narrated by Leila, the oldest of three sisters of Chinese immigrant parents (she is raised by her stepfather Leon, her sisters' father--her father, who convinced her mother to emigrate, now lives in Australia). Ona, the middle sister, jumped off a building a year earlier, and the family is preparing to recognize the one-year anniversary of her death.
Lei is still trying to understand why Ona felt the need to jump. And this book is her running over their childhood with Leon and Mah, he away for a month at a time on ships, she a seamstress. The failed businesses, schemes, and inventions of Leon. How like Leon Ona was in many ways. The girls' relationships with men, her own moving in with her boyfriend and youngest sister Nina's move to New York. The story moves from present to past to present, and I was a little confused in several sections and had to re-read to figure out when the chapters were. In the course of the book, Lei comes to understand why Ona was so despondent, and only wishes she would have spoken to her, or Nina, or Mah.
I enjoyed the peek at Chinatown San Francisco in the 1980s (that's a guess based on the cars, other details, and pub date of the book). The street names, the restaurants, the basements, the quick walk into North Beach for coffee, the bridges, the names and histories of other characters (Peruvian Chinese immigrants; and Principal Lagomarsino--a Val Fontanabuona name, and thus also a very North Beach name). I spent a fair amount of time in SF in the late 80s/early 90s, and it took me right back. Even the phone booth.
Set in San Francisco's Chinatown, a novel of family ties chronicles the Leongs--a Chinese-American family caught between the traditions of their ancestry and the realities of life in America.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.54Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
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