THE END OF EAST by Jen Sookfong Lee


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An impressive debut novel that delves into the immigration experiences of three generations.

Delivered in lyrical language radiating with apt metaphors, the story alternates between Sammy Chan’s modern-day life and her family’s past. Unannounced jumps in time create an unpredictable and sometimes spotty narrative that functions to mirror the memories it seeks to illustrate. Vancouver provides the dreary, oppressive backdrop, reinforcing the gray emotions of the Chan family, whose constant theme is a longing to escape. Sammy, the youngest Chan daughter, spent her life waiting for the day she could escape her parent’s house. She finally does, only to be dragged home again for her sister’s wedding. With all four of her older sisters out of the house and her father dead, Sammy has to stay and take care of her difficult mother. Striving to carve her own identity in the shadow of her family, Sammy weaves disproportionately in and out of her grandfather’s story. Quiet, humble Seid Quan arrives in Vancouver from China as a teen. He saves enough to bring his son, and later his wife, over from China. The group struggles to learn how to be a family, never achieving the intimacy they each crave. Seid Quan’s son, Pon Man, looks down on his father’s profession, vowing to escape the same future. He assimilates into Canadian culture but is at the same time entrenched in a Chinese past. His parents select a wife for him, Siu San, who arrives from Hong Kong to find a demanding mother-in-law who only becomes harsher as Siu San bears girl after girl and no boys. Drawing on the five senses, evocative language illuminates themes binding together each member of the family. The themes addressed include the power of sex; female rivalry; males as oppressive and redemptive; reality versus imagination; and isolation. The novel’s major shortcoming is that it pays too little attention to Sammy. Her character is intriguing but remains largely undeveloped.

An enrapturing exploration of identity that proves that family is unshakeable.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-312-37985-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2008