A young Chinese-American woman surveys a Midwestern small town with a gimlet eye.
This handsome reprint of Telemaque’s (The Sammy Wong Files, 2007) first novella, originally published in 1978, concerns the early life and first real love of Ching Wing, an unhappy girl in a stifling world. Her father, Mr. Wing, doesn’t know how to run his restaurant, The Canton, and his daughter’s fed up with it. Ching grows up waiting tables in a “kind of a bastard Chinese restaurant, where they served roast milk fed turkey along with the usual chop suey and chow mein.” Her mother sits at home all day and pines for the old country and the nephew she’s saving up to bring across the Pacific and then across the prairie. Situated, quite literally, on the wrong side of the tracks, the house where the Chings spend their off hours isn’t much to speak of either: “ ‘The junk house’ I called it because of its second-hand furnishings, which I hated.” Ching feels torn: half-American and half-Chinese. There’s no future for her among the mildly racist clique girls and freeloading “bums” her father entertains out of charity. She’s afraid of both the white and black boys. Suddenly, her life lights up. Bingo Tang, son of a more successful restaurateur, arrives to stay the summer at the junk house, and Ching sees stars. “Dear God,” she prays at night, “I won’t ask anything again. Just make him love me. Make me pregnant. Then make him marry me.” The story of Ching growing up and getting out of town plays out against the colorful dreariness of a 1960s-era Midwestern hamlet. Readers are introduced to a number of amusing characters like the never-present but much-talked-about Mr. Sorensen, a landlord who communicates his wishes via newspaper announcements, and the thoroughly assimilated Mr. Fung, who dislikes anything that smacks of charity. Telemaque has clearly read her Sherwood Anderson, and the small frustrations of a narrowly circumscribed and landlocked life are convincingly, not to say claustrophobically, evoked. This is a useful novella for anyone interested in Chinese-American history or, indeed, why it’s crazy to stay Chinese in Minnesota.
A convincing novella of mid-20th-century Minnesota via the point of view of a Chinese family.