Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Love Wife by Gish Jen

I stayed up too late finishing this book last night, but it was worth it. I've enjoyed Gish Jen's past novels, Mona in the Promised Land and Typical American, and this one was just amazing. The story begins when Carnegie does two things to disappoint his Chinese-born mother; he marries a white woman "Mama Wong" insists on calling Blondie, and he adopts a child of unknown parentage. Mama Wong's dying wish is for the Wong children to be raised more Chinese, so she arranges for Lan, a distant relative, to be brought over from China to nanny for the children (Carnegie and Blondie have adopted another daughter from China, and have had a late-life biological son). This book is about so many things: Carnegie's conflicted relationship with his mother and Chinese culture in general, Blondie's fears that Lan is the wife Mama Wong had wanted for Carnegie, the daughters' feelings that they are not one thing or the other, Lan's categorizing of everything as "Chinese" and "American" and assimilation attempts, what it means to belong to a family. I also learned a bit about the Cultural Revolution, which Lan lived through.

Excellent book. Like her others, I highly recommend it.

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