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Eat Everything before You Die: A Chinaman in the Counterculture

Overview

In this vibrant and original novel, Christopher Columbus Wong, orphan son of a Chinatown bachelor community, is trying to invent a family for himself while all around him American popular culture is reinventing itself with sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. Christopher finds himself on a wild journey with his gay older brother, Peter, a pan-Pacific TV chef; the defrocked, deranged, and eroding ex-director of a Chinatown settlement house, Reverend Ted Candlewick; the sharp-eyed, conspiring matriarch Auntie Mary, the ...

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Overview

In this vibrant and original novel, Christopher Columbus Wong, orphan son of a Chinatown bachelor community, is trying to invent a family for himself while all around him American popular culture is reinventing itself with sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. Christopher finds himself on a wild journey with his gay older brother, Peter, a pan-Pacific TV chef; the defrocked, deranged, and eroding ex-director of a Chinatown settlement house, Reverend Ted Candlewick; the sharp-eyed, conspiring matriarch Auntie Mary, the bridge between the conflicting values that make up this cultural stew; and Uncle Lincoln, a bachelor, short order cook, and, quite possibly, Christopher and Peter’s father. Further complicating Christopher’s voyage are his ex-wives: Winnie, a Hong Kong immigrant looking for a green card, and Melba, an American orphan of the counterculture.

Set against the backdrop of America’s wars in Asia and the assimilation of that experience—the refugees, the stereotypes, the food— Eat Everything Before You Die is an ironic commentary on the identities the children of Chinese American immigrants concoct from their questionable histories, cultural practices, and survival strategies.

Chan’s riotous story will appeal to general readers, particularly those interested in the Asian American experience, and will be of strong, enduring interest to students and scholars in Asian American Studies.

University of Washington Press

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Editorial Reviews

The Seattle Times

Jeffery Paul Chan has clearly set out to write a decades-spanning epic about the immigration experience and the cultural permutations the Bay Area has gone through during the post-war era. And he boasts many of the tools and talents necessary to the task. He has a skeptical eye for human comedy, and a wanton eye for polymorphous sexual entanglements and jealousies. The San Francisco he portrays through his Chinatown lens couldn't be more vivid.

Choice

What works best in this novel are the fascinating detail and the demands of narratives that intertwine like tendrils of creeping vines.

Publishers Weekly
A professor of Asian-American studies weaves a knotty, dynamic tale of Christopher Columbus Wong, a grown orphan, and his quest to uncover his origins and process his life experiences: growing up in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1950s, going to university during the Vietnam War, eloping with a Chinese immigrant seeking a green card and then taking up with a passionate hippie. Colorful characters float in a whirlwind of American counterculture. There's dying Uncle Lincoln, who might be Wong's father; Peter, his gay older brother with "a quick mouth ready to deal in two languages"; the inimitable Auntie Mary, known to kill pigeons from her balcony with "slingshot frozen peas"; and Wong's father-figure, Reverend Candlewick, who was defrocked for pedophilia. Wong describes Wick as a "messiah... who could alchemize race, culture, politics, sex, and rock 'n' roll"-a feat that is quite possibly the ambition of this very ambitious novel. But the non-linear and muddled narrative obfuscates the plot, even as it makes sense coming from a narrator so lost. Chan writes with sumptuous eloquence about food, and the moments in which boundaries between sibling, lover, mother and father shift and break down are deeply moving. This is a bumpy but vigorous read. (Oct.) FYI: Chan co-edited two anthologies of Asian-American writers, Aiiieeeee! and The Big Aiieeeee! Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
First novelist Chan (coeditor, The Big Aiieeeee!) concocts a veritable banquet of images as he follows Christopher Columbus Wong on a stream-of-consciousness odyssey through life in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-20th century. Chris suffers from serious identity issues. He is Chinese, but he cannot speak his language, and although orphaned, he belongs to a close-knit, self-made family that includes the pedophile director of a settlement house; a so-called Chinese uncle, perhaps his father, who is a part-time cook and full-time entrepreneur; a managing Chinese auntie who may have been his birth mother; a gay adoptive brother who becomes a popular television chef; both of his ex-wives; and a violence-prone Vietnamese rock star. As Chris seeks to define himself in this dense and challenging narrative, political upheavals in Asia send waves of new immigrants to America, the drug culture sweeps over his community, and the family eats everything from fish eyes to healthfood bars. This anguished and angry search for self will appeal to fans of literary fiction. Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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