BEYOND THE NARROW GATE by Leslie Chang

BEYOND THE NARROW GATE

The Journey of Four Chinese Women from the Middle Kingdom to Middle America
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KIRKUS REVIEW

First-time author Chang rather falteringly describes the flight of her mother and three friends from the Communist takeover of China to middle-class lives in the US. The four women met first in Taiwan, to which their families, supporters in one way or another of Republican Chiang Kai- shek, had managed to escape the advance of Mao Zedong’s Communist troops. There they attended a premier girls’ school, the “narrow gate” that could lead them to the Confucian ideal of higher learning and eventually to America. The author’s mother, Mary, made it to Hartford, Conn., where she married an insurance executive, also Chinese, and settled down in a WASP neighborhood. By sheer dint of personality, she made a place there for herself and her family. Twenty years later, she organized a reunion for her Taiwan classmates, beginning the reconnection that led to this book. Because her mother was virtually silent on the subject of her past, Chang began to tease the story out of the classmates, settling on three (here called Suzanne, Dolores, and Margaret) who had also married and launched their new American lives more or less successfully in Pennsylvania, California, and New York City. The author struggles to understand both mother and friends, as well as to clarify her own role as a Chinese- American who does not speak Chinese but still sees whites as “the other.” With neither the intensity of The Wild Swan nor the intimacy of The Joy Luck Club, this story of Chinese immigrants in America falls flat, partly because of its tangled structure. The story moves from family to family, from past to present, from Taiwan to Queens to Maui, with no clear purpose. Life, of course, is tangled—the lives of these women perhaps more than most—but Chang’s eye for detail and willingness to probe can’t overcome prose that reads like a final project for a writer’s workshop.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-525-94257-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999