Eighth Promise: An American Son's Tribute to His Toisanese Mother

Eighth Promise: An American Son's Tribute to His Toisanese Mother

by William Poy Lee
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

In the tradition of the bestseller The Color of Water by James McBride and the classic In My Mother's House by Kim Chernin comes a beautifully written, evocative memoir of the relationship between a mother and son-and of the Chinese American immigrant experience. Author William Poy Lee's moving story spans from the ancient Chinese farming village of his mother's youth

Overview

In the tradition of the bestseller The Color of Water by James McBride and the classic In My Mother's House by Kim Chernin comes a beautifully written, evocative memoir of the relationship between a mother and son-and of the Chinese American immigrant experience. Author William Poy Lee's moving story spans from the ancient Chinese farming village of his mother's youth to the housing projects of San Francisco's Chinatown during the civil rights era, the Vietnam War, end the countercultural 1960s and 1970s of his coming-of-age. Told in two voices-the author's and that of his mother-it is a stunning tale of violence, injustice, fortitude, survival, and triumph.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
While many immigrants are focused on assimilation, Lee's mother, Poy Jen Lee, came to America with a different agenda. In 1948, Poy Jen agreed to leave Suey Wan, her Toisan village in the Pearl River delta of China, to come to America as the wife of a Toisanese-American man. Before leaving, she made eight promises to her mother, among them that she'd find good husbands for her sisters and arrange immigration papers for her mother and brother; teach her children Chinese and Toisan customs, so they'd know their heritage; keep clan sisterhood strong; and cook traditional medicinal soups. The eighth promise bound Poy Jen to the fundamental Toisan ethos, "to live her life in complete compassion" for all people-her family, her Chun clan sisterhood and her larger community. In this remarkable memoir, mother and son, in alternating chapters, tell the story of their life in San Francisco's Chinatown from the 1950s to the present. Between American racism and power struggles in the Chinese community, it's a tribute to Toisan endurance that Poy Jen not only held her family together but also brought her children back to China to fortify their clan connection. Fans of Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston shouldn't hesitate to embrace this formidable matriarch and the son she taught to cook her chi soups. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 weaveshis 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.
Alice Walker
The Eighth Promise is the rare book that tells a story we have not heard before, yet poses questions that are eternal. Who are we, having left the land of our ancestors and settled among others similarly displaced? How do we find 'home' in the present when the past meant a thousand years in the same place? How do we honor parents—particularly our mothers—whose lives were the bridge that brought us safely to a more promising land? In this unusual, wise, insightful and healing memoir, William Lee Poy explores territory that reflects and intrigues us all.
Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A-)
Peppered with wit and sarcasm, this gracefully told saga forgoes melodrama.
Salon.com
The Eighth Promise is a lively read and a significant contribution to the body of literature that continues to bubble up from the steaming cauldron that is the American immigrant experience.
The San Francisco Chronicle
Whatever our level of familiarity with the main ingredients of this story, it nevertheless continues to exert a powerful allure. After reading William Poy Lee's The Eighth Promise, we are reminded why: Each family has its own emotional landscapes, its own idiosyncrasies and neuroses. In the end, it is observing the way particular families respond to stress that makes such narratives so compelling.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594868115
Publisher:
Rodale Press, Inc.
Publication date:
11/27/2007
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
1,200,520
Product dimensions:
5.93(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.89(d)

Meet the Author

WILLIAM POY LEE, formerly an architect and now a lawyer, lives in Berkeley, California. This is his first book.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >