Mona in the Promised Land: A Novelby Gish Jen
In these pages, acclaimed author Gish Jen portrays the day-to-day of American multiculturalism with poignancy and wit, introducing us to teenaged Mona Chang, who in 1968 moves with her newly prosperous family to Scarshill, New York. Here, the Chinese are seen as "the new Jews." What could be more natural than for Mona/b>/i>
A New York Times Notable Book
In these pages, acclaimed author Gish Jen portrays the day-to-day of American multiculturalism with poignancy and wit, introducing us to teenaged Mona Chang, who in 1968 moves with her newly prosperous family to Scarshill, New York. Here, the Chinese are seen as "the new Jews." What could be more natural than for Mona to take this literally—even to the point of converting? As Mona attends temple "rap" sessions and falls in love (with a nice Jewish boy who lives in a tepee), Jen introduces us to one of the most charming and sweet-spirited heroines in recent fiction, a girl who can wisecrack with perfect aplomb even when she's organizing the help in her father's pancake house. On every page, Gish Jen sets our received notions spinning with a wit as dry as a latter-day Jane Austen's.
The opening passages, with Mona sprouting all sorts of tall tales about her heritage, had me laughing. "In the eighth grade, people do not want to hear about how Chinese people eat tomatoes with the skin on . . . On the other hand, the fact that somewhere in China somebody eats or has eaten or once ate living monkey brains -- now, that's conversation." Fifty pages later, I had stopped laughing and had no idea why I was still reading.
Jen has the audacity to combine an adolescent's search for self with the larger search for cultural identity, and to set the whole thing in the late '60s when questions of racial and cultural identity seemed new and urgent. But there's nothing here Margaret Cho hasn't done funnier already, and Jen shies away from any turmoil or conflict that would require more than her oblique, low-key fiction-class approach. Reading Mona, you'd never know the '60s were anything more than a fad for bored, spoiled suburban kids. It's not just that the characters are oblivious to the larger questions swirling around in that decade; so's Jen. The book reads like notes for a character who didn't make the final cut on "The Wonder Years." In this novel, the '60s are grist for nothing more than the latest offbeat entry in the "It's all a part of life's rich pageant" genre sweepstakes. --Salon
Mona Chang offers a first-person record of her life from 1968, when she is in the eighth grade, to adulthood. She is the daughter of Chinese immigrants, Helen and Ralph, who have worked determinedly to discard the more obvious habits and tastes that might mark them as being too foreign; they have even (grudgingly) accepted that Mona and her sister Callie will inevitably lead lives far removed from most Chinese traditions. Grasping just how far, though, is the problem: Mona, feeling increasingly unmoored when her parents move to wealthy Scarshill, New York, believing that she needs to belong to a minority prouder of its identity and traditions, decides to convert to Judaism. Her decision unnerves not only her parents but the wider community, yet she stubbornly perseveres in the first of several rebellions. Woven through Mona's often witty narrative of her adolescence, of her struggles both to fit in and to stand apart, of her first hesitant experience of passion, is her determination to live outside both the expectations of her parents and the blithe stereotypes of society. Jen, who misses little, renders the status-laden particulars of life in Scarshill with the specificity of an anthropologist, and she catches the enthusiasms and prejudices of the 1960s and '70s with a documentary-like zeal. Mona describes all of this in a voice that is earthy, vivid, and convincing.
In tracing the (guardedly triumphant) struggles of one young woman to be herself, borrowing from a variety of traditions without being constrained by any of them, Jen gives us an affecting storyprecise, often very funnyand a wonderfully idiosyncratic heroine.
Meet the Author
Gish Jen is the author of four novels, a book of stories, and two books of nonfiction, The Girl at the Baggage Claim and Tiger Writing. Her honors include the Lannan Literary Award for fiction and the Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She teaches from time to time in China and otherwise lives with her husband and two children in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Date of Birth:
- August 12, 1955
- Place of Birth:
- New York, New York
- B.A. Harvard University, M.F.A., Iowa Writers¿ Workshop
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Mona in the Promised Land was recommended by our public library for our book club. Only 2 people out of 9 were able to finish reading it. Boring doesn't describe how tedius it was. No one got the point of the story and some said it was juvenile. Our discussion was not exciting, as it usually is, because we found nothing worth discussing. Why was this book written? Better still, why was it published? Sorry I wasted my money and time. Don't waste yours.
I thought it was funny, witty, and surprising. She has a conversational-like writing style that is easy and interesting to read.
Mona in the Promised Land is an excellent book. I enjoyed reading this book because the main character Mona dealt with some issues that I also do as a teenage girl. I thought it was really great to see Mona try to be her own person against the influence of those around her.
It's sweet and it smells like China in details. For those who want to get into the details of Chinese thought and everyday life, 'Mona in the Promised Land' is simply amazingly accurate. A witty, funny, ejoyable way of getting to know the bunch of adorable Chinese people living where you do. It's almost like a visit in the home of a Chinese family, who in other circumstances could not have been read like a book. I highly reccomend it!
This book is a school book that our teacher picked out for an 8th grade class. I really do not like this book and every other girl in my grade would say the same. it's torture reading this book, not recommended at all.
A delightful memoir for all those that went to HS in the late '60s. Especially those of us growing up Jewish near Scarsdale. Her tales of what it's like to be first generation Chinese,very different from her friends and growing up in 1968 are VERY accurate (and enjoyable) for those times. I enjoyed it immensely and it brought back loads of memories of my HS years. I highly recommend it!