This volume of interconnected stories, part of Coffee House's series by Asian-American writers, introduces a young Chinese immigrant. Working from a decidedly autobiographical base, Wang Ping presents horror stories of Maoist China from which most of the horror has been carefully removed. Wang uses the first-person voice of a young woman named Seaweed to tell of the depredations of the People's Revolution. Plastic surgeons are outlawed and forced to clean hospital bathrooms to atone for their sins; makeup and long flowing hair are forbidden; young children are left with grandparents in distant cities because there's no time to care for them at home; middle-class children who are graduated from high school are forced to spend two years working and living among peasants before they'll even be considered for the few college spots available; and peasant schoolgirls are sold into disastrous marriages. Finally fulfilling her dream of an education, Seaweed manages to attend graduate school in New York, get a green card, and find employment as a substitute teacher in Chinatown. Her day-to-day existence might be easier, but she's haunted by familial shadows (two sisters desperate for her to bring them to America, her father's death, her aunt and grandmother) and the untranslatable concept of chu jai—according to which, regardless of success, a Chinese woman does not have a ``home'' until she marries. The outer circumstances might change, but Seaweed's emotional tenor remains consistent: the caring young woman, refusing to be ashamed of her past, keeping a serene presence despite all odds. English might be the author's second language, but she has mastered a conversational tone that seems graceful and effortless—but, unfortunately, also one-dimensional. To fulfill the promise evident here, Wang will have to flesh out other characters and create multilayered tension. The only thing missing here is drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-56689-025-X

Page Count: 172

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1994

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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