Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The End of East - Jen Sookfong Lee

The Basics: The End of East, Jen Sookfong Lee, 2007, 245 pages, hardcover

How I found it: I remembered reading an interview with Lee in the Tyee this summer, and then picked up her book during some random browsing at Chapters.

What's it about?: The narrator is university-aged Samantha (Sammy) Chan who flees her troubled personal life in Montreal to return home to care for her aging mother after her old sister moves out. The story isn't really that much about Sammy though - it is more about her memories of her parents and grandparents. Sammy's portions of the story are told in first person, but much of the book is focuses on Sammy's parents and grandparents and their early days in Canada after arriving from China. These portions are told in the third person. In general, the plot revolves around the struggles of three generations of Chans: the struggles to make a life in Canada, to have positive relationships with their family members, and to have positive relationships with themselves. All of the Chans say that they feel that Vancouver's Chinatown is a part of them, so much so that they could walk its streets blindfolded after not having visited in years. Similarly, Vancouver's Chinatown is a part of this book - Lee has tried to capture the essence of Chinatown in a novel.

Did I like it?: I really enjoyed this book since Lee is an amazing writer. This is her first novel, and it is a great debut. Previously, Lee was known as a celebrated poet, and it shows in her writing. Her words are carefully chosen, which makes the story flow so well, and really brings it to life for the reader. Lee gives the book an undertone of melancholy and of things left unsaid, which is both beautiful and depressing. The amount of emotion that she is able to coax out of seemingly stoic characters is fabulous. The only thing that bothered me a bit about the book is that we didn't learn enough about Sammy and her journey. Perhaps Lee will have to write several other companion books as Wayson Choy did to tell the rest of the story of this Vancouver Chinatown family.

Will you like it?: This is a great book - good story, excellent writing. It really sucks you in and I was upset when it was over. If you like quality fiction, you'll like this book. Its a great one for bookclubs as well.

But don't take my word for it: Glowing editorial and reader reviews from Amazon, a review from Vancouver alternative weekly The Georgia Straight, one from the blog Lotus Reads, another from January Magazine, and a collection of review links from Vancouver's Toddish McWong of Gung Haggis Fat Choy fame.

1 comment:

  1. So happy to have found your blog! Thank you for linking to my review. I have since passed the book on to an American friend who wanted to know a little about the Chinese-Canadian community. I like the idea of Sookfong Lee writing companion books to "The End of East", hope she's reading your blog! :)

    Love your review format...mind if I borrow it sometime?