Seven interconnected stories chronicle the multifaceted, often ugly life of the 21st-century Chinese immigrant.
Wang Ping begins her inquiry into the Chinese immigration experience on the mainland—specifically, in a Navy compound of family apartments on the East China Sea, where the only thing that a pair of sisters has in common is their desire to eventually have a bed to themselves. In the first story, “Where the Poppies Blow,” the plain, practical narrator grows a secret garden in the yard of the wealthy admiral, whose twin daughters have befriended the narrator’s charming younger sister. But in the following story, “Crush,” which presumably features the same pair of sisters, the narrator gets the upper hand. The family shelters a neighboring family from an onslaught of bullets. While the sister tries to charm the handsome neighbor boy, he is interested only in the narrator and her storytelling abilities. The sisters foreshadow Wan Li and Jeanne Shin, characters in two later stories, which take place after the women have immigrated to New York. In the title story, Wan Li is a prudent student who flits between rat-infested apartments in Flushing and Chinatown, working in restaurants while attending school. Though she improbably hooks rich, handsome Chinese playboy Peng, Wan Li doesn’t give in to the temptations of the capitalist West until she finds herself at the mercy of her mysteriously generous landlord, Genji. Meanwhile, Wan Li’s classmate, Jeanne, who narrates “Forage,” finds money and possessions all too alluring, and uses her body to attract the likes of Tiger (also the narrator of “House of Anything You Wish”), who mourns the wife and son he lost to a white man. Though well linked, the seven stories function independently, which not only speaks to the author’s narrative abilities, but also serves as a poignant metaphor for the splintered community she describes.
Thorough and thought-provoking.