This debut novel by a Chinese American about taking care of ailing elderly parents begins with much promise but peters out into short chapters that note, but don't dig deeply into, the passing of time. The story begins as Jenny, the mother of three—the youngest still a baby—learns that her 70-year-old mother has had a stroke. The early chapters are particularly effective, detailing Jenny's shock at her mother's fear of dying, and her attempts to feed and wash the older woman while simultaneously trying to take care of her own husband, East European Tomas, and family. As she and her brother Kent, a cardiologist, adjust to the change, Jenny recalls her mother's life in China, where she endured the Japanese invasion, afterward becoming unhappily married to their father, who immigrated to the US as a child, fought in WWII, then returned to China to find a bride. Ma Ma arrived in New York married and pregnant in 1949. Perhaps Ba Ba was disappointed at not receiving the large dowry he expected, but in any case the marriage soon broke down, though Ma Ma refused a divorce. All her life, Jenny has tried to be a good daughter (even though her mother was disappointed when she married a non-Chinese), and now she wants to take care of Ma Ma in her own home, but brother Kent persuades her that it would be too difficult. While Ma Ma slowly recovers, undergoes physical therapy, and moves back into her old Chinatown apartment, Jenny has to deal with ailing Ba Ba, whose constant anger, she now realizes, probably hid feelings of loss and disappointment. After Ba Ba dies, the story consists of brief updates on Jenny's prospering lot and Ma Ma's improving health. It seems that life, often previously so hard for Ma Ma, has become rich in "Jick fook"—accumulated happiness. Nicely evocative details of immigrant life and generational conflict, though not enough to turn a promising concept into full-blooded novel.
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