A Memoir
Email this review


A funny, sometimes brutally honest, account of one Chinese immigrant’s path from the tenements of Hong Kong to the halls of Harvard. What Mar captures most vividly is the difficult position occupied by many first-generation teenaged immigrants who are attempting to forge new identities as American kids while constantly being expected to serve as a cultural bridge for their more slowly integrating older relatives. She instinctively realizes that lying is the best response to such conditions, so she lies about her parents’ education, the restaurant where she works, and her parents’ occasionally socially awkward behavior. Her new identity as an American is constantly under threat of exposure by her inability to tell the same lie consistently to her several groups of acquaintances, and more than once she is nearly unmasked. In one particularly vivid episode, her entire fragile self-image is shattered when the word “seedy” is used to describe the restaurant where she works. She has sneaked a look at her recommendation to a special summer program of study at Cornell, and found that the psychiatrist who interviewed her during the application process was much more intrigued by her class status than by her intelligence. Much of her struggle consists in convincing her parents to allow her to do the many everyday activities taken for granted by the average American adolescent, but which seem incomprehensible within traditional Chinese culture—activities ranging from taking German in high school to spending time alone with her non-Chinese boyfriend. While much of her story focuses on her desperate attempt to fit in as a teenager, Mar simultaneously details her effort to rebuild a bridge between her new American identity and her Chinese past. Millions of Americans from diverse cultural backgrounds will find reflections of their own stories in this memoir; many more will find a deeper understanding of the complex relationships upon which our culture is founded.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-018293-8
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1999


NonfictionON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING INDIAN by Rupinder Gill
by Rupinder Gill