Sunday, May 14, 2006

Midnight at the Dragon Cafe - Judy Fong Bates

The Basics: Midnight at the Dragon Cafe, Judy Fong Bates, 2004, 315 pages, hard cover

How I Found it: I really don't remember. I probably stumbled across the title while randomly browsing the Halifax library site or

What's it about?: A story of an immigrant child growing up trapped between Canadian society and her Chinese heritage. Like the child protagonists in Wayson Choy's The Jade Peony and Denise Chong's The Concubine's Children (both of which are excellent and recommended) the protagonist here, little Su-Jen/Annie, carries around a lot of family secrets for such a small child. Unlike those novels, however, Bates' book is set in a small town in rural Ontario, not in the big bustling Chinatowns of Vancouver or Toronto.

Did I like it?: Well, it made me cry a little bit, which is usually a good sign, and I was upset when it was over as I wanted to read more, so I'd say I liked it a lot. Little Su-Jen/Annie is a very compelling character and her struggle to belong in white society while meeting the expectations of her Chinese parents is very touching. I had never heard of Judy Fong Bates before this, but I now I will seek out her short story collection, China Dog and Other Stories, since I really enjoyed her writing style.

Will you like it?: It's a bit of a woman's book, as much as I hate that distinction. Women will love the story... it is book club worthy. It is a good fast read with lots of heart. Every Canadian should read this book, or something like it to understand the immigrant experience first hand since the story could be re-told using immigrants of a variety of cultural backgrounds.

But don't take my word for it: Editorial and real people reviews.

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