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Fifth Chinese Daughter--still in print after 25 years--was a deceptively simple memoir of childhood and adolescence in San Francisco's Chinatown during the '30's and '40's. The sequel, which takes Jade Snow Wong and her husband through four children, a satisfying joint career and extensive travels, shows only intermittent flashes of the old charm. The first part is narrated like Fifth Chinese Daughter in the third person; the death of Jade Snow's father effects a clear psychological break indicated by a switch to the first person. What follows is somehow incomplete and unassimilated: family activities, changes in the Chinese-American community and a visit to the People's Republic arouse moments of remarkable perception but also long stretches of undigested events. Jade Snow herself is somehow lost in the shuffle--we see odd and not altogether attractive fragments that never coalesce into a whole person. The China trip is especially unsatisfying. It is treated as a reverent homecoming, yet the main approach is that of tourists--as concerned with the vagaries of hotel accommodations or the quality of Chinese champagne as with Jade Snow's response to the new accomplishments of her ancestral land. The passport mix-up which concludes the visit provokes a hysterical outburst of fear and resentment--we never understand why since the journey is otherwise presented as a friendly, illuminating experience. One comes away from the book not quite sure what sort of person Fifth Daughter grew up to be. Her most attractive self is still the filial: the portraits of her parents are the most solid and the most moving part of this chronicle--touchstones of stability in a curiously overcrowded, uncentered field of vision.

Pub Date: June 21st, 1975
Publisher: Harper & Row