Saturday, February 4, 2012

World and Town by Gish Jen

Themes of home, community and religion are gracefully explored in Gish Jen's latest novel, World and Town. Hattie Kong's father, a descendant of Confucius, and her mother, American missionary in China, sent Hattie on her own to live in the USA when she was 16. She is now in her late 60s, mourning the deaths of her husband and her best friend, and living with three dogs in a small town in New England. When a family of Cambodian refugees moves in next door, Hattie takes them under her wing. Other people in town weave their lives into a multi-strand narrative that is rich and satisfying.

Janet Song narrated the audiobook (Blackstone: 16 hours) at a sedate pace and pronounced the occasional Chinese words with tonal inflections. The e-audio MP3 file that I downloaded through my library's Overdrive database had a couple of glitches, unfortunately, including a repeated section 54 minutes long.

This was one of those books that held synchronicities with other things I was reading at about the same time.
1. Hattie is pestered by superstitious relatives who believe that her parents' burial spot is the cause of the bad luck that has befallen their families. Under Heaven opens with a man gaining luck through his pious work in burying the dead. Interment location is also part of the plot in Beauty Plus Pity.
2. The first chapter in World and Town is titled "I'll But Lie and Bleed Awhile." In Taking My Life, Jane Rule recounts fainting while reciting this same passage in class.
3. Kevin Chong's disaffected protagonist (Malcolm) in Beauty Plus Pity and Paul Yee's Ray in Money Boy, both had similarities to the oldest son in Gish Jen's Cambodian family, all of them struggling to find their place in society.
4. The bureaucratic hassles and personal misfortunes in China that Hattie hears about from her relatives echo the troubles faced by protagonists in The Blue Dragon.

Do many of you read different books simultaneously?


Claire at Latitude said...

It depends what you mean by "simultaneously". I don't think I do. If I start a book before I've finished another, I stop the latter and may not return to it - or not for a very long time. Perhaps I've already stalled in the first book... I'm a very ill-disciplined reader these days. But I still love to read.

Lindy said...

I've usually got one book that I read during my breaks at work (which stays there), a different book in audio format that I listen to while on the bus to and from work, and at least one other book that I'm reading at home. Depending on my mood, I may switch between genres and formats at home. Like you, Claire, I sometimes get stalled; then I'll switch to something completely different - maybe to graphic novel format or a children's book.