Attorney and architect Lee’s meandering memoir about growing up in an immigrant family.
First-time author Lee opens with his mother’s story, charting her move from a traditional Toisanese village to San Francisco. His descriptions of his mother’s early life understandably feel a bit removed, and the pace picks up when Lee turns to his own childhood and adolescence. He was born in the U.S. and, as a teenager in the late 1960s, sporadically participated in politics. At Berkeley, Lee grappled with class lines in the Asian-American community—middle-class Asians didn’t invite working-class kids like him to their parties. In 1972, Lee’s brother Richard was implicated in the slaying of another man. Richard was eventually convicted of first-degree murder, although Lee suspected his brother was in fact the victim of a “well-orchestrated conspiracy.” The last quarter of the book recounts Lee’s dogged efforts to rescue his bother. He raised funds for Richard’s appeal, and even entered law school because he thought acquainting himself with the legal system might somehow help. The question of identity looms large in this plodding family narrative: What makes an American? How do Americans connect with their ancestral past? Traveling to Toisan in 1983 was the beginning of what Lee describes as “a slow reintegration of self.” As a first-generation American, he had always felt “as if I had been dropped out of the sky,” as if his American present and future had nothing to do with his parents’ past. The trip to Toisan helped bridge the gap. Lee’s prose is uninspired, and sometimes embarrassingly juvenile (a high school “Song and Yell” contest was “an orgasm of school spirit”). Throughout, the author weaves his mother’s own words, set off in italics; unfortunately, this seems gimmicky, and the constant veering from one voice to another is irksome rather than powerful.
Predictable, even trite.