First novel from playwright and short-story writer Chin (The Chinaman Pacific & Frisco R.R. Co.--not reviewed): a magical,...



First novel from playwright and short-story writer Chin (The Chinaman Pacific & Frisco R.R. Co.--not reviewed): a magical, playful, if uneven tour of Chinese and Chinese-American history from the viewpoint of a 12-year-old. Donald Duk, ashamed of his name (""He is not a cartoon character""), learns to accept himself and his culture in this wonderfully zany coming-of-age journey that deals with the interpenetration of Chinese myth and American popular culture. As the Chinese New Year approaches in San Francisco, the little and insecure Donald dreads the ""stupid questions about the funny things Chinese believe in."" Teased and threatened by local gangs, he learns from his father, an opera devotee, how to protect himself with humor--that is, he deflects danger by talking in a Donald Duck voice. At night, meanwhile, Donald dreams that he's working on the transcontinental railroad for a $10,000 prize promised to the crew that breaks the world track-laying record. This dream story, juxtaposed throughout to Donald's waking life, climaxes when he discovers through research that, in fact, Chinese Americans were never given credit for their part in the building of the railroad. But most of the story is given to Donald's peregrinations through Chinatown: odd characters, old stories retold, tap-dancing classes (Donald wants to be Fred Astaire), the appearance of various wisdom figures, Chinese opera with its rituals, and a marvelous series of images of stick-and-paper model airplanes--which are finally burned in the sky as part of the parade (voluptuously described) on the last day of the Chinese New Year, by which time Donald has accepted the earlier advice of one trickster/wisdom figure: ""Here's a flash for you, kid. . .Your real name is your Chinese name."" Despite the awkwardness here and there, and the energetic prose that sometimes gets out of hand: a debut novel that deserves to be read almost as widely as the work of Maxine Hong Kingston, with whom Chin has conducted a long-lasting literary feud.

Pub Date: April 1, 1991

ISBN: 0918273838

Page Count: -

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991