TEA THAT BURNS: A Family Memoir of Chinatown by Bruce Edward Hall

TEA THAT BURNS: A Family Memoir of Chinatown

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The history of New York's Chinatown as told through the author's personal history. Hall (Diamond Street, not reviewed) is the son of a second-generation Chinese American and a Yankee of Scottish descent. In his introduction, he writes, ""I guess I'm searching for continuity,"" and thus begins a backwards journey to discover his ""roots."" The book, however, is not strictly a family memoir, but a history of the genesis and rapid growth of Manhattan's Chinatown with the stories of the author's predecessors woven into it. Hall conscientiously brings up the racism that Chinese immigrants faced in the late 19th century, culminating in the Exclusion Act of 1882. He also writes vividly of the way the Chinese were perceived by Americans (and vice versa), as well as about a particular hardship faced by the first wave of Chinese immigrants--the lack of Chinese women (he discusses the comlicated unions between Chinese men and white women). The book is at its best when he delves into the early history of Chinatown. Hall crowds his story with colorful characters and anecdotes in a way that is reminiscent of Luc Sante's Lowlife: the notorious Quimbo Appo, the crusading newspaperman, Wong Chin Foo. He also brings to life the rise of the Tongs, or Cantonese gangs, and their ensuing wars. While trying to illustrate the differences between cultures, he too often resorts to turns of phrase (""white ghosts,"" ""foreign devils,"" ""big noses,"" ""the seventh month of the Year of the Ox"") that are forced and render a quaint touch to the book. And unfortunately, during the moments when his own story emerges, the narrative goes fiat. But from the turn of the century to the present day, Hall's book accelerates overall to a dizzying pace.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0743236599
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Free Press